The new ban on nitrous oxide use is "essential" after a "rise in criminality" linked to the substance, a Bolton councillor says following a law change over its use.

Last week, the ban of nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, came into effect as part of the government’s Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan, which makes nitrous oxide a Class C drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

The Home Office said nitrous oxide is the third most used drug among 16 to 24-year-olds in England and police have reported links to anti-social behaviour.

This has included intimidating gatherings on high streets and in children’s parks and empty canisters of the substance strewn across public spaces.

The substance poses the risk of serious side effects to users who inhale it such as neurological and cardiovascular harm, respiratory issues, anxiety, addiction and memory loss.

The ban means possession of nitrous oxide, where a person intends to wrongfully inhale it for a psychoactive effect, is now an offence.

An unlimited fine, community sentences or, for repeat serious offenders, a prison term are all possible consequences.

Dealers who try to sell nitrous oxide, which is also nicknamed “hippy crack”, could face up to 14 years behind bars.

The gas can still be used for legitimate reasons like catering, pain relief during labour or in model rockets despite the ban being in place.

Cllr Rabiya Jiva, the council's cabinet member for stronger communities, has welcomed the move. 

She said: “The ban is essential as we have seen a rise in criminality that is either directly or indirectly related to nitrous oxide.

“I am liaising with Greater Manchester Police to fully understand the plans that they are putting in place to ensure the streets of Bolton are safe for our residents.

“I am confident that the police are more than capable of ensuring the use of nitrous oxide is eradicated in Bolton.”

There has been concern that the ban will increase the potential for counterfeit laughing gas to be produced though.

However, Cllr Jiva added: “I am confident that through the right levels of policing we will stop this happening and where there are isolated incidents, we will use the full force of the law to ensure that there are no repeated incidents."

Crime and Policing Minister Chris Philp said: “We are sending a clear signal to people, especially young people, that not only is abuse of nitrous oxide dangerous to health, but it is also illegal and those caught possessing it will face consequences.”