Amid the mounting controversy over “happy balloon,” the government has come up with countermeasures, designating nitrous oxide as a hallucinogen and strengthening safety steps to prevent its abuse.
Nitrous oxide - commonly known as laughing gas- is a chemical used for various purposes such as ancillary medical anesthetics and food additives used in the production of whipped cream. But it has recently been abused by giving the user an intense feeling of euphoria, lasting up to a minute when inhaled.
The Ministry of Environment will announce a revision to the Enforcement Decree of the Chemical Substances Control Act this month, to prohibit inhalation of nitrous oxide for uses other than the purposes of medical treatment.
The current decree prevents inhalation by using toluene, ethyl acetate, butane gas, etc. as hallucinogenic substances. A violation of this law will result in imprisonment for up to three years or a fine of up to 50 million won ($44,635).
Once nitrous oxide is designated as a hallucinogen, police can crack down on the sale of nitrous oxide in balloons. The environment ministry also plans to identify chemical substances other than nitrous oxide as a hallucinogen element, if necessary, to minimize the damage to the public health caused by abuse.
Even if the environment ministry designates nitrous oxide as a hallucinogen, the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety will tighten the monitoring of its use for purposes other than medical.
“We will monitor Internet sites that sell nitrous oxide to individuals for the purpose of inhalation, request the blocking of sales sites to the Korea Communications Commission, and strengthen guidance and checkups for college festival events and nightlife pubs,” a ministry official said.
Also, the ministry will prohibit companies importing and subdividing nitrous oxide as a food additive from selling it directly to individual consumers, and obligate them to attach a cautionary note saying “prohibited use of products outside of the intended purpose,” the official added.
“If businesses distribute it to individuals who cannot handle them, we will bring charges against them by the pharmacists' laws and regulations,” he said.
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