Rishi Sunak says 'entirely reasonable' to ban laughing gas - despite experts advising against it

Does the government have an issue with listening to experts? That's the question Here's the Story put to the Prime Minister after he announced nitrous oxide (widely known as laughing gas) would be made a Class-C drug in a crackdown on anti-social behaviour.

It means possession could carry a prison sentence of up to two years, an unlimited fine, or both.

Rishi Sunak's decision to criminalise the drug is in direct opposition to advice given by his government's own experts, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which advised against such a move.

The group said the punishment would be "disproportionate" with the level of harms associated with laughing gas.

Yet Mr Sunak told us it's an "entirely reasonable" move to make: "We should have a zero tolerance approach to drugs and the damage they do to young people."

While there are horror stories of the long-term impacts of excessive nitrous oxide use, including vitamin-B12 deficiencies and nerve-damage, the ACMD deemed the drug to be "relatively safe in moderation".

All the while, it's anti-social behaviour and littering that the Prime Minister, and his cabinet ministers, have consistently come back to when defending their decision to ignore the experts.

"When anyone who walks around that local park, or wherever it is, sees these canisters strewn around even thrown out of car windows - they see people acting in a way that is not respectful after taking these drugs, and I don't want people to feel like that," Mr Sunak said.

"I want people to feel safe in their communities, not to feel intimidated by what people are doing - often fuelled by nitrous oxide".

Again, however, the advice commissioned by the government doesn't really align with that assessment, the ACMD report found: "No substantive evidence of links between nitrous oxide and anti-social behaviour" aside from littering."

When asked today in a press conference in Chelmsford if this was just a different way of selling an anti-littering policy, the PM didn't directly respond.

Empty canisters of nitrous oxide - comonly known as laughing gas. Credit: PA

The criminalisation of laughing gas is just one part of the government's anti-social behaviour action plan.

"Taking urgent action" is central to the PM's plan - that involves more police in "hotspot" areas and "immediate justice".

That's really all about justice being seen to be done, and done quickly. For example, marching somebody back to a wall of graffiti to scrub it off.

We didn't, unfortunately, get the time to ask Mr Sunak today if that same "immediate justice" would apply to the likes of graffiti artists like Banksy.

The final part of the plan is, Mr Sunak says, "to give the police and local authorities the powers they need." That's everything from increasing fines across the board for things like littering and fly-tipping as well as investing more in youth services.

The Prime Minister delivers his anti-social behaviour action plan to a crowd in Chelmsford. Credit: PA

Whether you, or the experts, agree with the government's approach or not - to many of us it may seem familiar.

That's because, as pointed out to the PM by journalists today, it's strikingly similar to the promises made by leaders gone by to tackle anti-social behaviour once and for all.

Though latest figures for incidents of anti-social behaviour have actually decreased up to 35% on the previous year, Mr Sunak will be hoping his rendition of a "tough stance" has the desired impact.

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