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Sunday, 14 July, 2002, 23:06 GMT 00:06 UK
Substance abuse deaths down
Lighter fuel
Lighter fuel is very dangerous
The number of deaths linked to abuse of volatile substances such as glue and lighter fuel is the lowest for nearly 20 years.

The figures appear to vindicate the government's decision to ban the sale of lighter fuels to teenagers.

Research shows that there were 64 deaths in 2000 linked to abuse of gas fuels, aerosols, glues and other solvent based products.


It is important that the dangers of inhaling these substances are fully understood

Mary Field-Smith
This compares with 75 in 1999. However, the number of deaths associated with volatile substance abuse has fluctuated in recent years.

The figures were compiled for the Department of Health by scientists at St George's Hospital Medical School in London.

They show that over half of all volatile substance abuse deaths in the year 2000 were due to gas fuels, predominantly butane lighter refills.

Boys at risk

The figures also show that deaths continue to be much more common among males than females - even though community surveys of secondary schoolchildren suggest that levels of abuse of volatile substances are similar for both sexes.

The decrease in deaths in 2,000 is primarily due to a 55% reduction in deaths associated with abuse of butane lighter refills by people under the age of 18.

This was the first full year under the legislation banning the sale of cigarette lighter refills to under 18-year-olds.

Researcher Mary Field-Smith said: "The fall in the number of deaths in 2000, in particular amongst those under the age of 18 is welcome.

"However, it is too early to predict a trend and we will continue to monitor all deaths due to volatile substance abuse.

"The number of deaths resulting from the abuse of butane lighter refills still gives cause for concern and it is important that the dangers of inhaling these substances are fully understood."

Continued enforcement

Warren Hawksley, director of the charity Re-Solv, told BBC News Online that the figures were the first evidence of the success of the ban on teenage sales.

However, he warned that there was no room for complacency.

He said: "We are concerned that some trading standards officers who initially enforced the new legislation with some degree of vigour may have been easing off.

"It is very important that this legislation continues to be vigorously enforced."

Mr Hawksley said part of the problem was that retailers were confused by legislation that meant 16-year-olds could legally buy cigarette lighters, but not lighter re-fills.

It is estimated that 40% of people who die from abuse of solvents had no previous record of abuse.

The dangers of solvent abuse were graphically illustrated by the death of 17-year-old Shaun Leinster, who died earlier this year after sniffing lighter fuel just once.

His family has since started a national campaign to raise awareness of solvent abuse.

See also:

07 Mar 02 | England
15 Mar 02 | Health
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