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Mixed Reception for Legal High Ban

Legal HighsThe new nationwide ban on legal highs has come into force, sparking a mixed set of opinions and responses. Some have welcomed the ban as an important step in tackling dangerous substance abuse issues, while others have expressed doubts as to the practicality of enforcing the ban.

Legal highs, also known as “new psychoactive substances,” are chemical substances that are designed to have effects very similar to those of prohibited drugs, but also to be different enough in composition from those drugs to escape existing bans. They are ostensibly sold for purposes other than human ingestion – another step in evading existing drug laws – but when ingested produce a “high” similar to other drugs such as cocaine. Last year, a rise in prison violence was linked to legal highs, and over 100 deaths around the country were believed to involve such substances.

The new law represents a blanket ban on all such substances, effectively closing all the loopholes that the previously slipped through. Bans have previously been enforced on the local level in some areas, but the new law takes effect nationwide. It prohibits production of these substances, as well as selling or otherwise supplying them. It also empowers the police to shut down both online stores and physical “headshops” which sell drug paraphernalia, as well as to carry out searches and to confiscate and destroy any such substances they find.

Many have been delighted by the new law. Notably, those who have campaigned against the use of dangerous psychoactive substances have welcomed the ban. Karen Vandersypen, who began campaigning against legal highs after they led to the death of her son, described herself as “delighted.”

However, there are also doubts about whether it will be feasible to enforce the ban effectively. The new law was originally supposed to take effect last month, with questions about enforcement reportedly being among the reasons for the delay. Now the government has released its “forensic strategy,” methods of testing substances to establish whether they fall within the scope of this law, further doubts have been expressed. A number of lawyers, forensic experts and pharmacologists predicted that enforcing the prohibition on new psychoactive substances would be “fraught with difficulty.”

Critics have also suggested that convictions under the new law would be relatively difficult to obtain. A large part of this difficulty relates to the testing strategy, and difficulties in definitively establishing that a substance produces a high. According to professor Les Iversen, chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), writing in a letter to the Home Secretary: “There is currently no way to define psychoactivity through a biochemical test, therefore there is no guarantee of proving psychoactivity in a court of law.”

Car Smoking Ban Soon to be Implemented?

Car SmokingMPs in the House of Commons have passed an amendment aimed at banning smoking in cars that contain children by 376 votes to 107. While the passing of this bill does not mean the ban will necessarily take place, many indications seem to suggest that it will.

The amendment already passed successfully through the House of Lords, but returned to the House of Commons to undergo further debate. MPs were given a free vote by the government on the issue.

Thanks to the passing of the amendment, which relates to the Children and Families bill, gives the government the ability to implement the ban, but they are not under any compulsion to do so. However, various sources have suggested that they are likely to do so, perhaps before the general election due to take place next year. The bill also gives the same powers to the Welsh government.

Health Minister Norman Lamb, of the Liberal Democrats, seems to support this implication. He said that, in his opinion, the passing of the bill leaves the government with “a very clear mandate now to get on and legislate.” Lamb was commenting at the time on the very decisive majority that passed the bill.

Concerns about second hand smoking and the health hazard it poses are nothing new. There have been concerns for a number of years on the matter, particularly where children are involved. Exposure to second hand smoke during childhood can lead to chest infections, asthma and even cot death. An estimated 300,000 children have to see their GP with health issues relating to second hand smoke every year.

Smoking in public indoor spaces was banned in England in 2007 due to concerns over the effects of second hand smoke. When the ban did take effect, many believed it was already overdue. Most public attention on the ban related to smoking in restaurants or bars. However, smoking inside a car can create a concentration of smoke that is 11 times greater than you would get in a bar, raising serious concerns over what it could mean for children’s health.

Some have objected that the bill affects personal liberties that should be protected for reasons of individual freedom. However, many have dismissed these claims including health minister Norman Lamb. Addressing the issue, Lamb said: “The liberty to smoke in your car in front of a child doesn’t seem to me that important and protecting a child’s health does seem to me to be incredibly important.”