The UK Nitrous Oxide Ban - What Teachers Need To Know.

From 8 November 2023, possession of nitrous oxide (NOS) will be illegal in the UK as part of the government’s Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan. Nitrous oxide, or ‘laughing gas’, is the third most used drug among 16-24-year-olds in England1 so teachers and educators need to be clear on what this ban means. The statutory guidance for RSE and health education states that all pupils should know the law relating to the supply and possession of illegal substances by the time they end secondary education.2 We have written this post to inform teachers of the updates to legislation and how we can support you in delivering this information to your students.

The UK Nitrous Oxide Ban.

The Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan, published earlier in 2023, cited the negative effects of nitrous oxide misuse on health and society. Supplying and selling ‘laughing gas’ for recreational use and for its psychoactive effect is already illegal. From 8 November 2023, possession and misuse of nitrous oxide will be banned. Nitrous Oxide will change from being classed as a psychoactive drug to a Class C Substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.3 Possession of Nitrous Oxide, or ‘laughing gas’, with intent to wrongfully inhale, will now be a criminal offence.

 The government aimed to make clear in the Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan that they were implementing a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to drug misuse and anti-social behaviour. The health implications of misuse of nitrous oxide (including neurological harms) and the social harms (such as drug driving offences and littering of discarded canisters) were highlighted as the main focus for the proposed ‘clamp down’ on illegal drugs. Nitrous oxide canisters have widespread availability for purchase from corner shops and online retailers due to their use for catering purposes.

What This Means For Teachers.

Teachers and educators will be well aware of the prevalent use of nitrous oxide amongst young people in the UK. With almost one in ten 16-24-year-olds reported to have used nitrous oxide in a 12-month period at a recent peak,4 it is crucial for secondary and further education settings to be aware of the new legislation and what this means when teaching PSHE and health education. Michael Kill, CEO of Night-time Industries Association, recognised that the ban on nitrous oxide would need to work ‘hand-in-hand’ with a broader education and harm reduction strategy across the country.

By the end of their secondary education, pupils should know the facts about legal and illegal drugs and their associated risks, physical and psychological consequences, and the law relating to the supply and possession of illegal substances. This means that it is essential for secondary and further education teachers to be aware of the changes to the law regarding the possession and use of nitrous oxide.

Secondary education settings should:

Know that nitrous oxide (or ‘laughing gas’) will be controlled as a Class C substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 from 8 November 2023.

Be able to communicate the associated risks of nitrous oxide use, including vitamin B12 deficiency, a form of anaemia, suffocation and asphyxiation and severe misuse leading to nerve damage or paralysis. The risks within communities include an increase in anti-social behaviour, littering of discarded canisters and potentially fatal consequences on the UK’s roads from incidents of drug driving.

Know the law relating to the supply and possession of nitrous oxide after the ban is implemented, which could include an unlimited fine, a visible county punishment, a caution that appears on an individual’s criminal record, and a prison sentence for repeat serious offenders.5

What Educators Can Do Now.

By staying up to date with recent changes to legislation, you can ensure that you are teaching factually accurate information to pupils so they can make informed and positive choices for themselves. Many education settings are already aware of the health risks associated with psychoactive drugs like nitrous oxide, so the main change to be aware of here is that the drug will now be classed as Class C and have consequences for possession. The sentence for supply of nitrous oxide will also be doubled to 14 years. You can read more about this new legislation here.

Our Chameleon PDE partner schools can be assured that we are currently updating our library packs to reflect this change. If you want to find out more about becoming a partner get in touch info@chameleonpde.com. We know that policies and legislation are continuously updating and it can be hard to keep up. Our flexible resource library does the work for you. The editable teaching resources and updated supporting guidance documents will help you feel confident that you are providing accurate information to your pupils.

Our ‘wrap round’ PSHE support won the best secondary resource category at this year’s National Education Resources Awards and our services aim to provide PSHE/PD leads with the tools to put them firmly in the driving seat. By working closely with our partner schools, listening to students, and collaborating with our teacher advisory board we can confidently say ‘we’ve got you covered’.

To find out more have a look at our webpage for secondary schools here https://www.chameleonpde.com/resources/about?resource_type=secondary or contact us for an informal chat at info@chameleonpde.com

References

1 Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Home Office. “Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan.” Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan, 2023. Anti-Social Behaviour Plan, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/6463889b0b72d3001334455d/Anti-social_Behaviour_Action_Plan_March_2023.pdf.

2 Department for Education. “Physical health and mental wellbeing (Primary and secondary).” GOV.UK, 13 September 2021, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/relationships-education-relationships-and-sex-education-rse-and-health-education/physical-health-and-mental-wellbeing-primary-and-secondary#physical-health-and-mental-wellbeing-secondary. Accessed 8 November 2023.

3 Home Office, The RT Hon Chris Philp MP, The RT Hon Suella Braverman KC MP. “Possession of nitrous oxide is now illegal.” GOV.UK, 8 November 2023, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/possession-of-nitrous-oxide-is-now-illegal. Accessed 8 November 2023.

4 Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Home Office. “Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan.” Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan, 2023. Anti-Social Behaviour Plan, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/6463889b0b72d3001334455d/Anti-social_Behaviour_Action_Plan_March_2023.pdf.

5 Home Office, The RT Hon Chris Philp MP, RT Hon Suella Braverman KC MP. “Possession of nitrous oxide is now illegal.” GOV.UK, 8 November 2023, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/possession-of-nitrous-oxide-is-now-illegal. Accessed 8 November 2023.