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Mum who says her son, 11, died from 'chroming' TikTok trend issues warning to parents

Tommie-Lee Gracie Billington, 11, from Lancaster, suffered a suspected cardiac arrest on Saturday.

Tommie-Lee Gracie Billington's family say he died trying the 'chroming' social media trend. (Facebook)
Tommie-Lee Gracie Billington's family say he died trying the 'chroming' social media trend. (Facebook)

The mother of an 11-year-old boy who died after reportedly taking part in a dangerous TikTok challenge has urged other parents to “talk about the consequences” of social media crazes with their children.

Tommie-Lee Gracie Billington suffered a suspected cardiac arrest on Saturday after taking part in a trend called “chroming”, his family said.

Chroming, also known as huffing or sniffing, is where someone inhales toxic chemicals such as paint, solvent, aerosol cans, cleaning products or petrol. These inhalants affect the central nervous system and slow down brain activity, which results in a short-term “high”.

It can result in slurred speech, dizziness, hallucinations, nausea and disorientation but can also cause a heart attack or suffocation. His family had previously said Tommie-Lee “died instantly” while at a sleepover at a friend's house in Lancaster.

And his mother, Sherri, has urged parents to “hide all deodorants” from their children so they are unable to take part in the challenge.

“As much as I hate talking about it,” she wrote, “I need to raise awareness of what kids are trying nowadays. Please, please, please hide all deodorants from your children. This cost my son his life from trying something other kids are doing. They are using this and breathing them in to try [to] get a buzz. It is beyond me why anyone would even try this. It’s so dangerous.

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"Tommie had stayed over at a friend’s and was inhaling this with his friend which cost him his poor, young life. Please talk to your children about the consequences of this, I have no idea how this even came about for children to try.”

Lancashire Police has described his death as “unexplained”. A GoFundMe page set up in memory of Tommie-Lee to help with the funeral costs has raised nearly £3,500.

Although TikTok has banned any searches of the term “chroming challenge”, Yahoo News was able to search and find three videos where some young people went as far as to share tips in the comment section on how to reach the best high.

We found the videos after searching “chroming”, which doesn’t show you anything on its own, but using the suggested searches provided by TikTok’s algorithm we were eventually served more harmful videos. The videos in question show a method and a product suggestion that could be used for a high. Some users appeared confused by the video and only found out about inhaling aerosols in the comments.

One chroming video that Yahoo News found on TikTok had 700,000 views; searches for 'chroming challenge returned TikTok's safety notice.
One chroming video that Yahoo News found on TikTok had 700,000 views; searches for 'chroming challenge returned TikTok's safety notice.

All the videos appear to have been posted in February this year and one has as many as 730,000 views and has been bookmarked by 1,000 users. Yahoo News has reached out to TikTok for comment on these videos, which have subsequently been removed.

It is not clear how widespread the "chroming" craze is on various social media platforms or where the specific term originated.

In Australia, the phrase was used in connection with the deaths of two teenagers in November 2017 and in May 2023 it was reported that a 13-year-old girl from Melbourne, Esra Haynes, also died after taking part in the trend.

While the emergence of social media crazes are a natural concern for parents, inhaling solvents for a high has been a problem long before social media.

According to solvent abuse charity Re-Solv, trends in deaths attributed to the inhalation of gases and solvents have declined in the UK over the years, from a high of 152 deaths in 1990 to 38 in 2020. The charity says that the average age of death associated with inhaling gases and solvents has actually increased in the UK, from 26 in 2002 to 46 in 2020.

The charity added in a statement to Yahoo News: "It is possible that the figures that we have available to us (ending in 2020 and 2021) do not take into account the impact of social media trends, but we haven’t seen a major impact."

Dr Lawrence Cunningham, a retired doctor who now works with UK Care Guide, told Yahoo News that tackling "chroming" is an important issue as the products involved can be obtained at a low cost.

Dr Cunningham said: "From my experience working closely with young individuals and families affected by substance abuse, "chroming" and solvent abuse remain a significant concern within certain communities. You find that these substances have easy accessibility and can be gotten at a low cost."

He said that while solvent abuse carries immediate effects such as dizziness and euphoria the possible "alarming long-term consequences" include damage to the brain, kidneys, liver and, in some cases, death.

"These health effects, compounded by the social and legal issues that often accompany substance abuse, paint a grim picture of the challenges faced by these young individuals."

Yahoo News has contacted TikTok for comment.

Following the death in September 2023 of an Irish teenager that was linked to chroming at the time, TikTok said in a statement: "Content of this nature is prohibited on our platform and would be removed if found."

Yahoo understands that TikTok does not regard this is a 'challenge' specific to their platform and that references to "chroming" pre-date the launch of the app .