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Monday, August 16, 1999 Published at 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK

Scottish plan to cut solvent deaths

Solvent abuse has claimed many lives in Scotland

A campaign has been launched in Scotland to reduce the number of young people killed by solvent abuse.

The inhalation of substances such as glue and butane has claimed 232 lives in Scotland since 1971.

BBC Scotland's Leslie Anderson reports on the campaign
The Responsible Retailer campaign by the Health Education Board for Scotland supports the government's plans to make the sale of butane gas lighter refills to people under 18 an offence from October.

The initiative is being undertaken jointly with the Co-op and the Health Education Authority.

Deaths increasing

Drugs in Schools
Recent figures from the Department of Health showed that six people a month are dying after breathing in glue, aerosols and gases.

The statistics, compiled by St George's Hospital Medical School in London, show that the number of deaths caused by solvent abuse rose between 1995 and 1996 from 69 to 75. Most victims were aged between 14 and 18.

[ image: Many young people die at home]
Many young people die at home
Cigarette lighter refills were responsible for more than half the deaths. Glue and aerosols led to between 6.5 and 14% of deaths. Most died after inhaling fumes at home.

The array of substances inhaled included air fresheners, hair spray and bicycle tyre repair glue.

Jennifer Taylor, research manager at St George's, said many of the deaths were unnecessary.

"Like Russian roulette, some die and some don't," she said.

"Because someone has used them once or twice, they should never assume that they are free from risk. All these deaths are preventable."

Physical effects

Surveys show that up to 9% of all school children have inhaled solvents, but the majority only try them once or twice.

Since they slow down the heart rate and breathing, they can cause suffocation and heart failure.

If they are inhaled in a plastic bag, suffocation is a higher risk. Many also contain dangerous chemicals.

The long-term effects include kidney and liver damage. Lighter fuel is one of the most dangerous solvents because it cools the throat tissues and causes them to swell, creating breathing difficulties.

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