LONDON: Britain’s government said on Sunday (Mar 26) it plans to ban sales of small canisters of laughing gas as part of a wider crackdown on anti-social behaviour heading into elections.
Communities Secretary Michael Gove vowed to save city centres and parks from turning into “drug-taking arenas” – and denied that the government was failing to tackle woeful prosecution rates for crimes such as rape.
Public spaces should no longer be littered with the “scourge” of small canisters of nitrous oxide used by people to get a quick high, he said, even as experts warned that a ban would be counter-productive.
Gove, a former journalist, has admitted to taking cocaine in the past. He told Sky News that he had learned that taking drugs was a “mistake”.
British law already bans the “knowing or reckless” supply of nitrous oxide for inhalation outside of medical uses. But the canisters are easily bought online and on the streets.
Prolonged use can cause anaemia, nerve damage and spinal injuries, doctors warn. There were 36 deaths in Britain associated with misuse of nitrous oxide between 2001 and 2016, official data show.
The Conservative government has been stepping up its get-tough rhetoric on a range of issues, including illegal immigration, as it tries to revive its standing in opinion polls ahead of local elections in May.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is expected Monday to outline a series of measures to tackle low-level crime, which pollsters say is rising up voters’ list of concerns as a cost-of-living crisis bites.
Downing Street said the plans will include vandals and daubers of graffiti being forced to wear jumpsuits or hi-vis jackets while they carry out tasks in public as punishment.
Police will gain new powers to tackle anti-social behaviour on the spot — but critics warned that public trust in UK police forces was already at a low ebb after a series of shocking crimes by serving officers.
The opposition Labour party, which is riding high in the polls, accused the Conservatives of reheating old policies that had already failed.
“We hear these sort of re-boots and another re-boot and another announcement to get the Sunday media attention, but I think it amounts to nothing,” senior Labour lawmaker Lucy Powell said on Sky.