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Last Updated: Monday, 21 July, 2003, 13:52 GMT 14:52 UK
Law 'hampering' solvents fight
Solvent cans
Substance abuse is a growing problem among under 18s
Efforts to cut the high number of deaths in Scotland linked to cigarette lighter gas abuse are being hampered by a legal anomaly, it has been claimed.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, trading standards officers can recruit underage children to test whether shopkeepers will sell them butane refills illegally.

The practice is prohibited in Scotland, which is undermining efforts to cut deaths, according to the director of the substance abuse charity Re-Solv, Warren Hawksley.

Nine people died in Scotland after abusing such substances in 2001, the latest year for which figures are available.

Mr Hawksley has warned that Scotland especially has a "particular problem" with volatile substance abuse, particularly among under 18s.

"The law is that it's illegal to sell cigarette lighter refills to anyone under 18," he said.

"In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, trading standards officers can send in underage children to test the system - in Scotland, you cannot.

"We feel it's very important that trading standards officers don't have to fight the battle with their hands tied behind their backs."

Death toll

But Mr Hawksley added that four areas of Scotland were currently undergoing trials to allow test purchasing.

Across the UK, 63 people died from volatile substance abuse in 2001.

On average, one person dies in the UK every week due to this kind of abuse, far more than Ecstasy.

The number of under 18s dying in this way has nearly doubled since the previous year, despite the introduction of new legislation in 1999 designed to crack down on the sale of butane lighter fuel canisters.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Executive said that trading standards matters were dealt with by the Department of Trade and Industry and individual local authorities.

Pilot scheme

However Deputy Justice Minister Hugh Henry said that if current alcohol test purchase trials were a success, they could be extended across the country for all restricted substances.

He added that Fife Council had introduced its own test purchase scheme for solvents.

He said: "Although evidence would not be admissible in court, this will provide valuable intelligence for Trading Standards officers.

"The executive is already working closely with the council on this project, and with the council and Re-Solv on new information for retailers about the law and the risks from solvent abuse.

"Other councils can adopt a similar approach and we are sure they will be monitoring the Fife situation closely."

BBC Scotland's Ruth Davidson
"A large number of victims killed after inhaling gas are children"

Children used in solvents fight
25 Feb 03  |  Scotland
Calls to tighten solvent rules
28 Nov 02  |  Scotland
Anger over lighter fuel sentence
18 Apr 02  |  Scotland

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