Tyne & Wear

Catering firm Toon Whip 'selling nitrous oxide as party drug'

Media captionThe delivery drivers offered balloons and instructions on inhaling

A Newcastle catering company is selling nitrous oxide as a recreational drug which has been linked to deaths, rather than for whipping cream as advertised, a BBC investigation has found.

Toon Whip appears to target students with its online marketing.

Its website warns buyers not to inhale, but a reporter was shown how to use it that way when a delivery arrived.

The firm said it sold the gas as a product for making whipped cream, not with the intention of it being inhaled.

Nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, is not illegal but has become the party drug of choice for many students.

'Hippy crack'

On its website, Toon Whip claims to be "Newcastle's premier and friendliest whipped cream delivery service operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week."

Facebook posts promoting the end of exams appeared on its page in mid-January when many university students would have finished their first semester exams.

Although buyers are warned they "must not inhale", when a reporter went undercover as part of a joint investigation by BBC Newcastle and Inside Out it was a different story.

Image copyright Toon Whip

In under 25 minutes the delivery drivers arrived with the canister and charges that were ordered by text.

The total cost was £45 and the drivers offered the reporter balloons and showed her how to inhale the gas from them.

The footage was shown to trading standards officer David Ellerington, who said: "That's illegal activity and should be stamped down upon.

"It's always been around - hippy crack - but it seems to be more problematic at the moment; certainly because of the nature of the city we've got with our student population."

In some instances, inhaling the gas can be fatal. Between 2006 and 2012 there were 17 fatalities related to the use of laughing gas in the UK.

Prof Simon Thomas, a clinical physician specialising in toxicology at Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary, said: "When you're inhaling nitrous oxide you're not inhaling any oxygen, you're inhaling pure gas and your brain becomes deprived of oxygen.

"You can die very quickly from a condition we call asphyxia."

'Comply with the law'

Leesa Davies' 21-year-old son, Jordan Guise, died after inhaling nitrous oxide.

She said: "He was found unconscious in the bathroom, there were canisters littered all over the floor so I don't know if he had taken one or if he'd taken eight.

"I think losing a child is the most awful thing anyone could go through regardless of why that child died, it leaves a huge gap, a huge hole."

Image caption Toon Whip says it 'does not sell nitrous oxide with the intention of the gas being inhaled'

Toon Whip said in a statement: "Toon Whip does not sell nitrous oxide with the intention of the gas being inhaled, we sell a catering product which can be used for making whipped cream.

"It clearly states on all of our websites and social media sites that this is the case.

"Further to this, anybody wanting to order online has to accept a disclaimer that they are using the products for catering purposes only and are over the age of 18."

In response to the undercover film, it said: "We have indeed been made aware of our responsibilities and the law regarding the sale of nitrous oxide.

"Following this, we have taken out the necessary precautions to completely comply with the law, trading standards and the police."

You can see more on this story on Inside Out on BBC One in the North East & Cumbria on Monday 22 February at 19:30 GMT and nationwide on the iPlayer for 30 days thereafter.

More on this story