NITROUS OXIDE LAW 'DIFFICULT' TO ENFORCE
Nelson coroner Ian Smith has questioned how a new legal ruling on nitrous oxide will be enforced.
Associate Health Minister Jim Anderton yesterday announced that police and health officials would start warning people that it was illegal to buy or sell the substance, commonly known as laughing gas, for inhalation.
The move follows a legal review by the Crown Law Office which concluded enforcement action could be taken against people for selling or possessing nitrous oxide because it is a prescription medicine.
Nitrous oxide is also commonly used as propellant for cream whipping canisters.
Mr Anderton said on Wednesday that nitrous oxide canisters could still be sold for purposes other than inhalation and it was up to the police to decide when prosecutions were appropriate.
Until now, police had been operating under the belief it was legal to buy and sell regardless of its intended use, he said.
The offence carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison or a $1000 fine. Advertisement
Mr Smith said proving that nitrous oxide was being sold for inhalation was going to be a difficult.
"What people are saying is if you know it's going to be used for substance abuse then you can't sell it.
"How do you find that out?"
Mr Smith had dealt with "two or three" deaths in Nelson involving the use of nitrous oxide and butane gas.
Limiting nitrous oxide sales was just "the tip of the iceberg for other sustance abuses which are prevalent", he said.
While there were issues surrounding enforcement of the change, Mr Smith said he hoped it would stop retailers readily selling the gas.
"If I was a retailer and I knew that 16-year-olds or 18-year-olds were coming in to purchase it, I certainly wouldn't be selling it."
Flurmo products in High St, Motueka, took nitrous oxide off its shelves on Wednesday following the ruling.
Owner Vicki Knegt, who also runs the Stardust dance party, said she removed the products because it was important to stay on the right side of the law in her industry.
"It's just not worth my headache."
She said the move would not have a big effect on the business, as people would find something else to try.
"It's a phase they go through. In a way its quite good, it's going to stop young ones getting their hands on it."
A lot of people were selling it but they probably wouldn't admit to it, she said.
Nelson Bays police area commander Inspector Brian McGurk said it was too early to tell how the changes would affect police practice in Nelson but he thought they were a step in the right direction.
"There is a harm to the community as a consequence of the misuse of nitrous oxide and other substances such as butane.
Many other stores approached by the Nelson Mail today said they had already stopped selling the gas.
Night Owl OTS Store owner Ardee Patel said the store stopped selling nitrous oxide in February 2004 after police had expressed concern about its dangers. He said customers had been very supportive of the move and no-one had complained about it.
Black Cat Super 7 in Annesbrook owner Ray Murray said the store had never sold nitrous oxide because he was aware that the majority of it would not be used for its intended purpose.
"We didn't want to get involved with what it does."