After officially banning the sale of nitrous oxide (more commonly known as laughing gas) to minors, a general ban for the entire population is now being considered by the government.
Earlier this year, selling laughing gas to minors was officially outlawed in Belgium. Following this decision, and the announcement of a similar ban in the Netherlands from 1 January 2023, the Belgian traffic institute Vias called for a full ban on nitrous oxide last month. Federal Minister of Mobility Georges Gilkinet confirmed that he will propose this to the government.
"Driving under the influence of substance is a major killer that we must tackle. I want to work with my colleague, the Minister of Health, to ban the sale of nitrous oxide and make traffic safer," Gilkinet wrote on Twitter.
Risk on the roads
Gilkinet was given the green light to put this proposal on the table earlier this week during the inter-ministerial conference with Belgium's mobility ministers; on Thursday he confirmed his intention when asked about road safety and driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
Vias has been warning about the increasing number of young drivers driving under the influence of nitrous oxide – traditionally associated with pain relief in dentists' chairs – for some time. New research shows that 15% of drivers between 18 and 35 have already driven within four hours of taking drugs or nitrous oxide. For young people, laughing gas is considered a party drug that provides a quick and legal high.
The ban currently in place specifically targets minors and is a first step in reducing the risk. However, the products remain available for purchase, including online where policing is difficult, which is why a general ban is needed.
Overall health risks
Aside from being dangerous when used by drivers, the chronic use of the psychotropic gas also causes serious health consequences, according to a recent report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, which stated it is “increasingly worried” about the increased consumption of the gas.
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It highlighted that the misuse of the gas can lead to an array of illnesses and injuries and that its effects are becoming increasingly problematic across Europe. Laughing gas has also been associated with psychological issues.
Gilkinet is working out the ban with Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke.