Sign in Aussie shop window accused of promoting deadly teen habit

A local resident confronted the store and asked for the sign to be removed from the shop window.

A convenience store has fuelled concerns over a dangerous trend among Aussie teenagers after it was seen promoting nitrous oxide canisters, commonly known as "nangs", in its store window.

The store in Sydney's inner-west, which is part of a chain of convenience stores, was called out by a concerned local when she saw a sign on its front window informing the public it sells cream chargers. While the canisters are traditionally used for whipping cream, they are also widely used as a recreational drug, particularly among young Australians.

"I asked them to take the ads down from the window. But they refused to remove the cream charger from their counter," the woman shared in a post on Facebook.

Images from EzyMart's shop window and counter, selling whipped cream canisters full of nitrous oxide.
The Sydney convenience store was advertising nitrous oxide canisters in their shop window. Source: Facebook

The local said it was clear the store was targeting those who "misuse" the canisters, with the gas, known as laughing gas, easily released with a small device into balloons. With the local high school so close, she believes such obvious advertising of the easily accessible substance is inappropriate. A staff member from the shop said they were unaware of the sign when contacted by Yahoo News Australia.

In recent years health professionals have raised concerns over the availability of canisters and their alleged increased use among young people. Drug, alcohol and mental health counsellor, Jess Lawrence told the ABC nitrous oxide canisters "need to be cracked down upon because it's a public health issue that's gone unaddressed".

"They're so accessible, they're not being sold for the reason they're made, they're only being sold for substance use," she said.

Is there increasing use of nangs among young Aussies?

Nicole Lee, adjunct professor at the National Drug Research Institute, told Yahoo News Australia there was "no evidence" the use of nangs was increasing.

"They have been around for a long time and tend to be used by younger people typically experimenting and only for a short time in their lives," she said.

Dr Lee said while canisters have a legitimate household use, meaning advertisements for them is not out of the question, "they shouldn’t be marketed so they are attractive to children or young people".

In NSW, selling or supplying nitrous oxide is an offence if the supplier knows the gas will be used for human consumption, it also cannot be sold to anyone under the age of 16 after the Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) classified the substance as a poison — but many, like Lawrence, believe this is not enough.

Perth was last year found to be the city with the highest use of nangs in Australia. Canisters sold there must now be labelled "poison" and have specific warnings against inhalation.

More education needed on dangers of nangs

"The Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF) supports stronger education around the potential risks associated with the use of nangs and how people can reduce harm," Robert Taylor, ADF's Knowledge Manager, told Yahoo News Australia.

Image of nitrous oxide canisters, known as 'nangs', and a balloon all found on the ground.
Nitrous oxide, known as 'nangs', is taken recreationally and long-term use can cause serious health issues. Source: Getty

"Comprehensive data around the use of nangs in Australia is needed to help inform regulation and to support targeted health campaigns".

Data on the use of nitrous oxide in Australia is currently limited, according to Taylor, but reported use of inhalants, which includes nangs, has been increasing in Australians aged 14 and over from 0.4% in 2001 to 1.7% in 2019.

The 2021 Global Drug Survey lists nitrous oxide as the thirteenth most popular recreational drug in the world, one spot ahead of ketamine.

Teenager hospitalised after 'nang' addiction

Earlier this year, teenager Molly Day warned others against using nangs after becoming addicted to them, inhaling one to two 1.3-litre canisters of nitrous oxide every day.

Following Day's admission to the hospital due to complications from her addiction, her mother Nicky Day, an emergency nurse, urged the government to "open their eyes" to how deadly and easily accessible the drug is. "The hospital put us through training as registered health professionals to be able to give that drug, and yet these kids can just go and buy it," she said.

In February, a 30-year-old man in Queensland drowned in a spa after inhaling the drug.

What is nitrous oxide?

Nitrous oxide is a gas meant to be used for sedation and pain relief, as a food additive for whipped cream, and in the automotive industry to enhance engine performance.

When used recreationally, it is inhaled most often by emptying canisters or cartridges, also known as bulbs and whippets, into another object, like a balloon, or directly into the mouth. It has been found to produce dissociation of the mind from the body, similar to a sense of floating, distorted perceptions and in rare cases, visual hallucinations, according to the ADF.

Long-term abuse can cause serious health problems

Immediate effects are individual but can include euphoria, dizziness or even death in some cases. Below are just some of the impacts of the long-term abuse of nitrous oxide:

  • memory loss

  • vitamin B12 depletion (long-term depletion causes brain and nerve damage)

  • destroyed spinal cord lining

  • limb spasms

  • depression

  • psychological dependence

  • psychosis.

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