Inhalant Legalities

During the 1950s, inhalant use amongst teens became popular and escalated during the 1960s as expanded consciousness became more widespread. Use of inhalants has become a worldwide issue, due to the ready availability of most of the substances used. Ether, model airplane and other glues, nitrous oxide, amyl nitrate and spray paint have all been restricted for sale to minors in most of the U.S. These are common household items in most countries, but poppers have become deadly drugs in the hands of the young who abuse them to get high.

Inhalant Laws in the United States

Thirty-eight of 50 states have enacted laws making various inhalants unavailable to those under the age of 18. Other states prohibit the sale of these items to anyone without recognition of purpose for purchase. Some states mandate laws against using these products for purposes of getting high, while some states have laws about possessing certain inhalants. Nearly every state imposes fines and jail terms for violation of their specific laws.

Because none of the specific inhalants are illegal substances per se, the laws are vastly different. For example, in Michigan, it is illegal for minors to purchase either butane or butane lighters, although adults may do so. In Nevada, sale or possession of any cement containing toluene, spray paints, and glues are illegal for minors. There are no restrictions on any of these items for adults. In North Dakota, restrictions are vague, stating that inhaling certain substances for purposes of getting high is illegal; and laws cover possession state, “general prohibitions of inhalable compounds.” This is left open to interpretation of which substances and by whom. The same vague description is part and parcel of the laws in several other states. Some have added named substances, such as glue and/or spray paints to add specificity to their laws.

California Law

California law prohibits “sale, distribution, dispensation, possession to minor”(s) of “toluene, materials containing toluene, and nitrous oxide.” Again, there are penalties and jail terms for violations of this law. This is one of the few laws in the US governing dispensation of these products, which is a good way to hold owners of these items accountable. Let’s assume that a homeowner has need of these products for legal use and obtains them in legal fashion. The teenage child of this homeowner may go into an open storage area of the garage to see what is available for him and his friends to party with that weekend. These items would need to be under lock and key in order for that homeowner to be relieved of liability for those products. In other words, this law holds accountable any adult who has these items in their home or business for any purpose if they are obtained and/or used by a minor.

Other states have no stipulations that this author could find, regarding the safety of the products that are legally obtained by an adult if they are stolen, borrowed, sold, bartered, given or traded to minors for use as a vehicle for getting high. This is shortsighted on the part of these legislative bodies, since the vast majority of these substances are easily and readily available for users to obtain through ALL of these methods, even though their use and possession may be illegal for that population most likely to use them in most states. It only makes sense that they would legislate for responsible storage and containment of these products since the likelihood has already been established. While many mandate against selling or transferring these items to minors, the laws are vague enough to hold no one accountable should they become possessed by minors.

Inhalant Laws in UK

Laws in England prohibit sale of inhalant products of any kind to anyone under the age of 18 if it is reasonable to believe they are being purchased for purposes of getting high.

Inhalant Laws in Canada

There are no laws governing the sale or possession of inhalants in Canada. Alberta, however, has passed legislation prohibiting the sale of inhalant compounds to minors as well as the use of inhalants by minors.

Inhalant Laws in Other Countries

Some parts of Australia have recognized a strong problem in their country with inhalant abuse. They have stepped up with laws aimed at controlling what they see as a rising problem. Outlawing “petrol sniffing,” a big issue in outlying areas of Western and South Australia has been the focus. In some parts of Western Australia, authorities can now search persons believed to be in possession inhalant substances in order to confiscate them. Note: Because they are dealing in remote parts of Australia with leaded gasoline, and those sniffing leaded gasoline versus unleaded, this leads to another substantial risk to the health of the user, that of lead poisoning.

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In Africa and in the Philippines, as in many other lower socio-economic regions of the world, there is a large problem with products that have been outlawed in the U.S. and most of Europe. As the rise of abuse began in the U.S. for products containing toluene, an ingredient in model glue, the easiest course of action was to outlaw the use of this ingredient in many products that were difficult to control in over-the-counter sales. This became common practice in most of the Western world. However, in South America and other countries, these products continue to be sold (some by American and European companies).

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