Police are cracking down on “laughing gas” vendors in Shoreditch, after an anti-social behaviour act gave officers new powers.
Nitrous oxide or “laughing gas” is a legal high inhaled using balloons or canisters, which is named as a result of the temporary “giggling” effect it can produce.
Hackney police have described new dispersal orders in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act, which came into effect in October, as an “effective tool” for breaking up “organised criminal networks” selling nitrous oxide.
The dispersal orders mean police can move vendors off Shoreditch streets, where before they were reliant on the council’s power to clamp down on unauthorised street trading.
Reports state that the first arrest under these orders happened last week, when a salesman was asked to move by police, but later returned to his pitch. Metropolitan police have not yet confirmed this.
The tighter measures come after police seized £6,500 worth of the drug in Shoreditch during one night in July.
Both Shoreditch and Brick Lane have been described as the “capital” for the legal high. One seller told the Guardian: “People come here because they know they can get it…Doesn’t matter how many people start selling, people are always going to want it.”
However, there has been a “noticeable decrease” in street sales since the introduction of the ASB act on October 20 according to police.
Acting Chief Inspector Ian Simpkins said: “It’s a highly lucrative illegal trade that could rapidly escalate and get out of control…We were getting fights between buyers, people waiting too long, people pushing into queues, people being overcharged, people not wanting to pay.”
He added: “We think we have an effective tool now, whereas two or three weeks ago we didn’t.”
Councils across England and Wales issued a health warning in August about the dangers associated with taking “laughing gas”. Use of the gas can be fatal, while prolonged exposure can cause anaemia, bone marrow suppression and poisoning of the central nervous system.
Hackney councillor Feryal Demirci, cabinet member for neighbourhoods, said: “This so-called legal high can be extremely dangerous – not only does it put people at risk, it promotes anti-social behaviour. The empty balloons and nitrous oxide canisters also create a lot of litter in Shoreditch and Dalston, which is frustrating for residents, local traders and shoppers. It also costs taxpayers’ money to clean up.”
“We want to send a message out to the thoughtless peddlers of this dangerous gas – they’re not welcome on the streets of Hackney and we will take action to remove them.”