Belgium approves general ban on nitrous oxide

Belgium's federal government has approved a general ban on the possession, sale and transport of nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, when it is used to induce intoxication. "The use of laughing gas poses a risk to the health of the user," Interior minister Annelies Verlinden told a press conference on Friday.

The Federal Council of Ministers has approved a royal decree that will add nitrous oxide to the list of drugs. Its sale, both physical and online, transport and possession will be banned. Fines for users start at 200 euros and can reach 800 euros. Dealers of laughing gas risk higher fines, confiscation and even prison sentences of up to five years if they are involved in gangs.

Health concerns are the main reason for the ban, said Verlinden. "We have already seen cases of pneumothorax and frozen lungs, and it also leads to concentration problems, which makes the use of laughing gas and driving dangerous."

Legal use of nitrous oxide is still possible, for example in the medical and food sectors. It will be up to the police or prosecutors to decide whether the possession or transport of laughing gas is "improper" or not, said Justice minister Paul Van Tigchelt.

"We are targeting young people in the nightlife scene (...) They can hardly say they wanted to bake a cake"

"We are not targeting people who want to bake a nice cake or cyclists who carry small cartridges to inflate their bike tyres," Van Tigchelt said. "We are targeting young people who are caught in the nightlife scene at 2.00 with large quantities of laughing gas. They can hardly say they wanted to bake a cake."

Belgium banned the sale of nitrous oxide cartridges in 2021, but this measure did not have the desired effect. With this decision, Belgium is following in the footsteps of neighbouring countries that have already banned the possession and sale of nitrous oxide, such as the Netherlands.

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