Inhalants: Legal consequences

Last modified: Sunday, 31. May 2009 - 4:37 pm

The estimated 1,000 to 1,400 products considered to be inhalants are legal products and are not regulated under the federal Controlled Substances Act. However, the National Conference on State Legislatures reports that, as of June 2000, 38 states had enacted laws to address the issues of minors’ use of inhalants. In various ways, the laws attempt to prevent the sale, use, and distribution to minors of certain products that are commonly abused.
California, for instance, prohibits the sale, distribution, or dispensation to a minor of toluene, materials containing toluene, and nitrous oxide. Minors are also forbidden to possess these substances. Louisiana prohibits the sale, transfer, or possession of model glue and inhalable toluene substances to minors. In Ohio, it is illegal to inhale certain compounds for intoxication — a common, general prohibition other states have enacted.
Some states draw their prohibitions more narrowly. New Jersey, for instance, prohibits selling or offering to sell minors products containing chlorofluorocarbon that is used in refrigerant.
Some states regulate inhalant sales tightly at the retail level. Minnesota, for instance, requires businesses to post signs stating the illegality of selling butane or butane lighters to minors. Minnesota also prohibits selling general inhalable compounds to minors, and it prohibits minors’ use and possession of them for intoxification.
In Massachusetts, retailers must ask minors for identification before selling them glue or cement that contains a solvent that can release toxic vapors. Also, the products must contain oil of mustard or a similar deterrent against inhalation. Young Massachusetts inhalant purchasers must also legibly write their name and address in a bound register, which the retailer must make available to police and keep for at least six months after the final entry.
Some other governments take a similar approach to controlling access. Great Britain’s Intoxicating Substances (Supply) Act of 1985 made it an offense to supply a product that will be abused. The Cigarette Lighter Refill (safety) Regulations of 1999 govern sale of purified liquefied petroleum gas, mainly butane, the substance most often involved in inhalant fatalities in the United Kingdom. It is illegal to sell this type of cigarette lighter refill to anyone under age 18.
Despite the laws, inhalant abuse remains a major health problem. As the American Academy of Pediatrics stated in a 2000 paper on preventing inhalant abuse, “… since inhalants are legal and kids can get them from so many different ways, it is not possible to make inhalants entirely off limits.”

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