The Guardian, Butane Gas or Nitrous Oxide – choose your own poison

The Guardian, Butane Gas or Nitrous Oxide – choose your own poison

by Mr Eugenides
article from Saturday 3, August, 2013

THERE WAS a jolly little story in the papers recently that alerted us to some strange goings-on in the lovely German university town of Gottingen. In recent days, cannabis plants have started springing up on lawns, flowerbeds and laybys all over the place, much to the consternation of the upstanding burghers of that municipality. A “guerilla gardening group”, going by the impeccably hippie title of “A Few Autonomous Flower Children”, had scattered several kilogrammes of cannabis seeds in every green space they could find, including public parks, window boxes and even the local police station, and then sat back and relaxed, as stoners are wont to do, while they waited for their handiwork to sprout into life.

Police have now found themselves acting as ersatz weedkillers, going round town ripping out everything that even vaguely resembles cannabis sativa. By the time the story first appeared in our press, the Gottingen police were cautiously predicting victory in the war against pot plants. “Officers have been told to be vigilant”, parped a police spokeswoman, “and destroy any illegal plants they see.”

Illegal plants. When you put it that way, it sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? What the fuck is an illegal plant? One that stowed away on the back of a truck from Calais? To use such language is, I think, to demonstrate the essential philosophical absurdity of fighting a war against naturally occurring flora and fungi, and a major reason why most libertarians are in favour of the relaxation or outright abolition of our drug laws.

But this isn’t a blog post about the legalisation of drugs. You don’t need to break the law to have a good time, kids; and there are plenty of people, such as myself, happy to restrict ourselves to the more common vices of beer, whisky and coffee (and occasionally the smuttier corners of the internet, like, or the New Statesman).

No, this post is about the creeping hysteria in our society about the legal ways in which people get their kicks. We already know all about the war on drinkers; the ugly, classist campaign to raise minimum prices on booze, screwing the poor out of more money while our political masters sip on their Sancerre without a care in the world. The petty, vindictive fight against smokers, too, is superbly documented online, not least through the efforts of this website and its editor. Though not a smoker, I deplore the small-mindedness of presuming to tell people how they should live their lives and of assuming that they are too stupid to be aware that they are damaging their health.

Since these threats are well-known by now, however, we must find new avenues for our anxieties. As if on cue, enter the Guardian – who else? – with the sad tale of Candy-Marie Ward, who died at the untimely age of 29 after years of snorting butane, the fuel for cigarette lighters.

The article is headlined, “Abuse of lighter fluid 'is killing record numbers'”. It’s only halfway down that we are told that, from a high of some 150 deaths a year in the early 1990s, annual fatalities fell to 50 or so a few years later and – I quote, now – “have remained static since then”. In fact, reading further, the yearly deaths from volatile substance abuse actually now hover at around 40 – 20 per cent down on just a few years ago, and almost a quarter of where they were two decades back. In other words, the headline to this article is quite simply – I don’t know how else to phrase this – a lie.

That has not stopped the Something Must Be Done brigade from swinging into action to demand – yup, you guessed it – “stricter laws to govern butane sales”. And there are also calls to increase government funding for the monitoring of solvent abuse, which seems a bit random until you read a bit further on again and see that these calls come from – yup, you guessed it again – a charity which monitors solvent abuse, and which has just seen its government funding cut. (I know, right? Who saw that coming?)

You don’t have to be a swivel-eyed libertarian to see a strong element of special pleading in all of this.

Sniffing lighter fluid is a particularly grim way to exercise one’s God-given liberty. Sniffing nitrous oxide, it seems, is much more mainstream. According to another article last week – I won’t insult your intelligence by pointing out which one – some 350,000 young people a year have taken to sniffing this “hippy crack” in a cheap and easy – and safe – way to get a quick high.

Once again, though, the Guardian – shit, I meant to keep that a surprise – is concerned. “Annual figures on drug misuse show that 6 per cent of all 16- to 24-year-olds reported using nitrous oxide – which is technically legal – in the last year.”

Technically legal. That’s a fantastic phrase, isn’t it? It means exactly the same as writing “nitrous oxide – which is legal”, but inverts the meaning almost exactly. It’s legal, the author is saying – but only on a technicality, only as an oversight. Don’t get your hopes up. We’ll get round to it soon enough. After all, says the Home Office, “like all drugs there are health risks and nitrous oxide should not be experimented with.”

Again, it’s only with further research (not provided by the Guardian) that one discovers that the theoretical risks of nitrous oxide inhalation have only ever been observed in patients who inhaled over 400 doses per week – or some 55 snorts per day. Never mentioned – not once – in the rush to delegitimise, stigmatise, and finally, of course, to ban.

Some of these rights are more meaningful than others; the right to snort lighter fuel is not to be found in Magna Carta, after all, and with good reason. But there comes a point, does there not, at which one has to stand back and say that we live in a free society, and that if someone is moronic enough to squirt a canister of gas up their nose three times an hour from dawn till dusk (or, more likely, the opposite) then we can only stand back and let nature take its course.

The Guardian needs to understand that the phrase “technically legal” is precisely meaningless; that there are the things which are banned, and then there is everything else. Taking a dump and then wiping your arse with a copy of the Guardian is “technically legal” as well, come to that. It’s certainly a better use of your time than reading the fucking thing.

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