Coali­tion calls for re­strict­ing he­lium sales, cites ‘huff­ing’ haz­ard

The Washington Times Daily - - Nation - BY DAN JACK­SON

The Na­tional In­halant Preven­tion Coali­tion, look­ing to draw at­ten­tion to the dan­gers of “huff­ing” he­lium, called Thurs­day for new re­stric­tions on the sale of the gas — as well as a more se­ri­ous ap­proach in the me­dia to cov­er­age of its mis­use.

“Did you know that a . . . 6-year-old can walk into any store in the U.S. and pur­chase a he­lium tank? They can’t even read the la­bels on the box,” said Justin Earp, the fa­ther of Ash­ley Long, an Ore­gon 14-year-old who died last month af­ter in­hal­ing he­lium at a party.

Mr. Earp joined NIPC of­fi­cials at a news con­fer­ence in Washington.

Peo­ple in­hale he­lium as en­ter­tain­ment be­cause the gas used to float bal­loons raises the pitch of the hu­man voice to car­toon char­ac­ter pro­por­tions. The gas is in­ert, but can dis­place the oxy­gen in the lungs, lead­ing to oxy­gen de­pri­va­tion — which can cause symp­toms rang­ing from dizzi­ness to black­ing out to car­diac ar­rest.

The NIPC said the data on the num­ber of deaths caused by he­lium is in­com­plete, but that the num­bers are sig­nif­i­cant. Ac­cord­ing to the state of Florida’s own sta­tis­tics, nine peo­ple in the state died from in­hal­ing he­lium in 2010.

Mr. Earp called for tougher laws to keep he­lium out of the hands of chil­dren and teenagers.

“It should be il­le­gal to pur­chase he­lium un­less you are 21 or are a li­censed doc­tor or anes­the­si­ol­o­gist,” Mr. Earp said.

Re­tail­ers and con­sumers, how­ever, could cut down on he­lium risks with a few sim­ple changes, said Har­vey Weiss, di­rec­tor of the Na­tional In­halant Preven­tion Coali­tion.

Stores could place he­lium tanks higher up on the shelves, out of the reach of chil­dren, he said.

Mr. Weiss said there needs be more aware­ness of the dan­gers of he­lium huff­ing.

“Some­times an adult shows [chil­dren] how to do it or that it is fun and ac­cept­able to put a gas in your body. Who would do such a thing? It could be a par­ent, a teacher, a Scout leader even a youth pas­tor,” said Mr. Weiss.

Brian Dyak, pres­i­dent of En­ter­tain­ment In­dus­tries Coun­cil Inc., an or­ga­ni­za­tion that en­cour­ages the me­dia to ad­dress so­cial and health is­sues, en­cour­aged the en­ter­tain­ment and news in­dus­tries to ed­u­cate peo­ple about in­halant abuse through their plat­forms at the press con­fer­ence.

He dis­trib­uted a Hol­ly­wood tip­sheet sug­gest­ing to writ­ers that they use their screen­plays to ed­u­cate peo­ple about in­halant abuse.

“Avoid us­ing in­halant abuse as a glam­orous or so­cially ac­cept­able or nor­mal be­hav­ior,” reads the tip­sheet. “Also, try to show abuse with the neg­a­tive con­se­quences that might ac­com­pany such use.”

The ed­u­ca­tion could get sub­tle. The hand­out sug­gested that the mes­sage could take the forms of in­halant-preven­tion posters on the set, sim­i­lar to the prod­uct place­ment some com­pa­nies em­ploy.

But Wal­ter Olsen, a se­nior fel­low at the Cato In­sti­tute, said that for years peo­ple have been play­ing with he­lium and sci­ence teach­ers have in­haled the gas to demon­strate its ef­fects on the vo­cal chords. Any­thing can be abused and he sug­gests know­ing the risks in­stead of mak­ing pol­icy or pass­ing law.

“Small risk is worth know­ing about, but it’s not worth re­ar­rang­ing our whole lives around,” Mr. Olsen said.

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