Department of Health

Key messages

  • From 1 October 2022 nitrous oxide products for non-therapeutic use have been classified as Schedule 6 by the Therapeutic Goods Association. Under the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981, these products will need to comply with the label, container and storage requirements of the Poisons Standard in order to be sold or supplied in Victoria.
  • Solvents are household, industrial and medical products that contain solvents, gases or aerosol propellants that can be inhaled for the purpose of getting high.
  • Solvent abuse (also known as inhalant abuse or volatile substance abuse) can be a serious problem. 
  • Victorian retailers have a responsibility to ensure that commonly misused solvents are appropriately stored and sold.

Responsibilities of retailers 

Commonly misused solvents in Victoria, such as whipped cream bulbs, butane in cigarette lighter refills and spray paints, must be appropriately stored and sold.

The Victorian Government is concerned about the problem of solvent abuse and has enacted legislation regarding the sale and possession of solvents. Retailers are required under legislation to act responsibly with regard to the sale of solvents.

Sale is illegal under s58 of the Victorian Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 if the person selling the substance knows, reasonably ought to have known or has or has reasonable cause to believe that someone intends to:

  • use the substance by drinking, inhaling, administering or otherwise introducing it into their body
  • sell or supply the substance to a third person for use in a manner mentioned above.

To manage the responsible sale of solvents, retailers should:

  • identify the potential products and how they are stored and displayed
  • display and store solvents such as nitrous oxide sources, butane and spray paint behind the counter or in sight of shop staff, near tills, on high shelves, or in locked display cabinets
  • use dummy containers for display purposes and to deter theft
  • display signs indicating support for the responsible sale of solvents and the store’s right to refuse sales of solvents – signs are available for download from this page 
  • train staff to understand store policy on solvents and their responsibilities
  • establish protocols so that staff know how to deal with customers who wish to purchase solvents – the information provided here could be used in an information session for staff
  • before obtaining solvent products from the wholesaler, it would be advisable that the retailer confirms with the wholesaler that the products comply with the label and container requirements of the national Poisons Standard.

Responding to customers who might be misusing solvents

The following statements could be used to respond to customers who retailers suspect might be misusing solvents.

Customer says or does

Retailer says or does

You can’t refuse to sell to me. I’ll have you up for discrimination.

We’re sorry but we do have the right not to sell this product.

You have to sell to me; I’m over 18 years old.

We’ve been told the law covers all age groups and we have to comply with the law or we can be prosecuted.

My mother has sent me up for three cans of spray paint.

We’d like to help but you will need to bring your mother or father or another adult in with you. This company has a policy not to sell this product to young people.

I have a letter from my mother so it’s OK for me to buy it.

As above.

You may as well sell it to me or I’ll just go up the street and buy it.

The government has advised us to restrict the sale of this product to young people.

This [product] will not do any harm. It’s not one of those things that kids sniff.

We’re sorry but that’s one of the products that the government has asked us not to sell because of the harm it can cause if used incorrectly.

Why won’t you sell it to me? You’ve just sold to the guy in front of me?

Focus on the difference between the customers, such as their age, when making a decision.

Groups of teenagers standing around areas where solvent products are displayed.

Ask if you can help them. If they do not want to purchase anything ask them politely to move on. If they refuse, call the manager or store security.

Other tips for dealing with customers who might be misusing solvents include:

  • Remaining calm and friendly. It is best not to argue with customers; just firmly restate the company policy. Most customers will accept this approach and leave the store. 
  • Using ‘we’ not ‘I’. Do not take direct responsibility for this policy. Telling a customer ‘We cannot sell you this product’ indicates that it is a management or government decision. This makes it harder for the purchaser to blame the individual salesperson.
  • Taking threats of violence seriously. If there is any threat or fear of violence, it is best not to refuse to sell. If you believe that somebody could be injured because you have refused to sell a product, then comply with their wishes and call the manager and/or the police.
  • Ensuring safety first. If a customer appears intoxicated, exercise caution and remember the safety of all customers and staff is the first priority.

For more information on solvent abuse, visit the Australian Drug Foundation

Other resources

Directline

If you are concerned about your own or someone else’s solvent abuse you can call Directline for confidential counselling and referral, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Contact them via phone on 1800 888 236 or via their website www.directline.org.au

Victorian Poisons Information Centre

If you believe someone has been poisoned or has overdosed you can call Victorian Poisons Information Centre for advice, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Contact them via phone on 131 126 or visit their website www.austin.org.au/poisons

Reviewed 18 October 2022

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AOD strategy team - Mental health and wellbeing division Department of Health

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