The Taoyuan City Government has drafted a regulation to prevent the inappropriate use of certain gases, especially laughing gas, the Department of Public Health said yesterday.
The city government proposed the regulation, which it expects to take effect in the middle of next month, to target nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, because it is not listed as an illegal drug, but its abuse among young people has risen sharply, the department said.
Nitrous oxide is used in many industries — including semiconductors, food and medicine — but misuse of the gas can lead to addiction and damage a person’s health, the department said.
The number of cases in which laughing gas was abused for recreational purposes in the city jumped from 134 last year to 455 in the first seven months of this year, police data showed.
However, offenders get little more than a slap on the wrist. Article 66 of the Social Order Maintenance Act (社會秩序維護法) states that people caught “smoking, sniffing or injecting hallucinogenic drugs other than opiate or narcotic drugs” can be punished by “detention of not more than three days or a fine of not more than NT$18,000 [US$621].”
To better regulate the sale and use of nitrous oxide and other gases, the proposed regulation would require vendors to register buyer information, and warnings on product labels.
It would also require hotels and other accommodation providers, as well as entertainment venues, to report to authorities guests in possession of any of the regulated gases.
The department said that it expects the proposed regulation to be sent to the city council after a 14-day public consultation period and to be passed in the middle of next month.
Taoyuan has taken the step after the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) in July announced that it planned to make nitrous oxide the first non-toxic chemical to be controlled under the Toxic Chemical Substances Control Act (毒性化學物質管理法) by the end of this month.
Under the new regulations, the unlicensed use of a regulated non-toxic chemical would carry a fine of up to NT$300,000, while use that causes physical harm or death could lead to a prison sentence of seven years to life, and a fine of up to NT$10 million.
About 2 percent of the laughing gas in Taiwan ends up unaccounted for, EPA Toxic and Chemical Substances Bureau Director-General Hsieh Yan-ju (謝燕儒) said in July.
Once the changes take effect, manufacturers and vendors would have to record each transaction and report them monthly to the authorities, Hsieh added.
To prevent abuse, the government would also require sulfur dioxide, which has a pungent odor, to be added to laughing gas manufactured for some purposes.
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