Retailers in Caithness and Sutherland are being issued with guidance on the sale of solvents following an increase in the number of solvent abuse cases being reported among young people in the north.
The Highland Council’s Trading Standards campaign follows concerns raised by NHS Highland Youth Action Service and the Caithness and Sutherland Drug and Alcohol forums to an issue of solvent misuse reported in the area.
It is an offence for a retailer to sell gas lighter refills to anyone under the age of 18, petrol and spray paints to anyone under the age of 16, or to recklessly supply substances to people of any age knowing that they are to be used for the purpose of abuse.
Trading Standards Manager, Gordon Robb, said: “We want to highlight to retailers the part they can play in helping to reduce the number of young people getting their hands on solvents. Shop staff need to be aware when selling these types of products that they might be bought for abuse. Many household products are solvent-based, not just glues.”
The guidance lists the types of products that are open to abuse and identifies steps traders can take, including asking for proof of age, refusing sales to anyone suspected of buying for abuse and training staff on tell-tale signs that a customer may be an abuser of solvents. Obvious signs of an abuser include a strong chemical smell off clothing, slurred speech and spots or sores around the mouth. Frequent or bulk purchases of solvents or buying these items together with plastic bags are also indicators.
Gordon Robb added: “We are working alongside our health partners in raising awareness among retailers, young people and parents to try to reduce solvent misuse and the associated anti-social behaviour and related crime, to protect our young people and make the Highlands a safer and healthier place to live.”
Steve James, Health Improvement Coordinator with the Youth Action Service for NHS Highland and a member of the local Drugs and Alcohol Forums, said: “Solvent abuse is a real and recurring problem in Caithness and Sutherland as well as the rest of the country. Evidence shows that more young people die each year from solvent misuse than all illegal substances combined. We have found that educating young people is simply not enough and they can still get hold of products that can endanger their young lives. There are a number of damaging effects associated with abusing solvents, which will result in the gradual decline of a young person’s health, but the most significant effect is that it can result in sudden death on first use.”
The charity Re-Solv Scotland has provided display stickers to be sent out to retailers with the guidance. Re-Solv Development Manager, Marina Clayton, said: “This campaign is a perfect example of how partners can work together to do everything possible to try to prevent deaths and harms from solvent misuse. The average home contains around 30 products that can be abused, from aerosols to the petrol in lawnmowers and cars. We must raise awareness of this legal but lethal activity. There is little more tragic than a death caused by ignorance.”
The Caithness and Sutherland Drug and Alcohol Forums are assisting with the distribution of the retailer guidance and helping Trading Standards to find young volunteers to allow officers to carry out test purchasing exercises to ensure retailers are acting responsibly when selling solvents.
Retailers in Caithness and Sutherland will receive guidance packs this week. Any retailers wishing further information can contact Trading Standards on 01463 228700.