Huffing deaths: 'A real grey area'

By Kate Shuttleworth

Huffing has claimed the lives of dozens in the past decade, including (clockwise from top left) Nicholas Baxter, Joe Stanley, Nathan Cunningham and Darius Claxton. Photos / supplied
Huffing has claimed the lives of dozens in the past decade, including (clockwise from top left) Nicholas Baxter, Joe Stanley, Nathan Cunningham and Darius Claxton. Photos / supplied

Key ministers agree a cross-party approach to address a "lost generation'' of youth who kill themselves through sniffing butane-based solvents is needed - but are passing the buck on who should lead it.

The Chief Coroner said yesterday the Government needed to coordinate a multi-agency response to the 63 people who have have died in butane-inhalation related incidents since 2000.

Chief Coroner Judge Neil MacLean said it was hard to see what action the Government had taken in the past 12 years.

Associate Minister of Health Peter Dunne says the Government are between a rock and a hard place because they cannot tell retailers what to do.

"This is a real grey area - it's pretty hard to regulate.''

Mr Dunne supported Judge MacLean's call for a cross-agency response and said the Government was taking the problem seriously.

"There needs to be a sense of perspective.

"Do you come in with heavy-handed regulation when research shows that just 0.1 percent of young people are involved in this behaviour?

"Do you put age limits on the sale of fly spray and butane and filling LPG cylinders?

"I think there instead needs to be a measured and sensible response from government, the community, parents and retailers.''

Despite the lack of direction on an approach the Government will look at a response, he said.

"It's not just Government, there are agencies within Government - Ministries of health and social development would have an interest but retailers and parents groups will need to be involved.''

"The Chief Coroner is not recommending any specific actions other than that agencies work alongside each other.''

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said she saw the report when it was released yesterday and hadn't read it in full.

A spokeswoman for Mrs Bennett said the lack of progress in the report linked back to 2000 and involved previous governments.

She said the Ministry of Health had set up the Child and Youth Mortality Review Committee (CYMRC) and it had looked at the deaths.

CYMRC chairman Nick Baker was clear about the role Government could take.

"Preventing these deaths requires work to reduce both the supply of and demand for these poisonous substances.''

He said this included reducing sales and access to butane-based products, voluntary control of butane by retailers, educating providers of support services to young people, community education strategies, strengthen individual knowledge and skills among youth, and providing access to quality health care.

Mr Dunne led a campaign regulate the party pill industry but said this was a different scenario.

The difference is, unlike party pills butane is freely available for quite legitimate purposes.

"There's got to be a much greater recognition by retailers that they have some responsibility. Young kids coming in late and night to buy substances of this type should arouse suspicions.

He said retailers and parents needed to be made more aware of the risks.

- APNZ

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