x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Call to ban selling gas to children to curb solvent abuse

Experts on solvent abuse warn users are not only damaging their health but also risk setting themselves on fire.

Three teenagers suffered minor burns after their car caught fire while they sniffed butane inside it.
Three teenagers suffered minor burns after their car caught fire while they sniffed butane inside it.

DUBAI // The sale of butane gas bottles to children should be banned in an effort to tackle "a growing problem of abuse", say experts.

Dubai police began investigating butane abuse in 2010. Since then they have dealt with at least seven cases of fires caused by butane gas bottles involving more than a dozen teenagers, including several girls.

Ahmed Ahmed, an expert in forensic fire investigation at Dubai Police, said only a fraction of cases reach the police. "It is just the tip of the iceberg," he said. "There are many other incidents that are never discovered."

The problem, he said, is that butane is cheap and easily available. "There should be a law, similar to the ban on tobacco, to stop teenagers buying such substances.

"Some would say butane gas addiction is not as widespread as cigarettes, but we shouldn't wait until it is. Such a law would curb the practice."

Rennet Saed, a psychologist at the Rashid Al Saleh school, agreed a ban would help. "But the important thing is not the law per se but the force of its implementation," she said. "There needs to be an effective mechanism in place to ensure shops follow the rule, especially the small shops."

Last month, three Emirati teenagers in Dubai suffered minor burns after their car caught fire as they were sniffing butane inside it.

Police say cars remain the venue of choice for butane sniffing, as they are small and enclosed. Tinted windows hide what is going on inside - despite the ban on tints of more than 30 per cent.

Others do it in basements, and in one recent case Mr Ahmed caught two young boys - aged between 12 and 14 - sniffing it in a public bus shelter in Garhoud.

The gas can cause euphoria or drowsiness, potentially leading to unconsciousness or severely restricted oxygen supply to the body. It can make the user's heart beat too fast or too slow. Long-term use can affect the nervous system.

"Addiction among teenagers is not new but butane as a form of it is," said Lt Col Khalid Al Sumaiti, a forensic chemistry expert at Dubai Police.

"However, butane is more dangerous because it does not only have a negative impact on the body but also it is highly flammable and those abusing it are putting themselves at risk of fire."

Solvents, though, are far from new. In the 1980s, teenagers were in the habit of heating a particular brand of hand cream, making it give off a gas that they inhaled.

In the 1990s, there were crazes for sniffing petrol and even car tyre fumes, as well as glue sniffing. Earlier this month, Dubai Police announced they were carrying out a study to determine the underlying causes of butane-sniffing.

They are considering the five accidents caused by butane use in 2010 and 2011, and interviewed the 13 boys and girls, of a range of nationalities, involved in the accidents.

"In our primary reading of the problem, the very fact that butane gas is a substance which cannot be criminalised due its everyday use plays an important role in the spreading of the problem," said Mohammed Saif, a member of the research team.

"We are still in the early stage of the study but we are to issue recommendations to the concerned authorities once the study is concluded on the different means in which the practice can be limited," he said.

wissa@thenational.ae