A group called the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition, with support from federal agencies SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) and NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse), held a press conference yesterday to promote wider restrictions on the sale and use of helium, the familiar balloon-filling gas that as most people know will make one’s voice squeaky if inhaled. Although helium has low toxicity, it can pose dangers to the user, especially when inhaled directly from a pressurized container, the dangers “mostly related to the mechanical damage of introducing a highly compressed gas into your lungs,” as a doctor put it in a 1997 publication from NIPC (“Helium: Not a Laughing Matter”). The Washington Times reports on the coalition’s demands and quotes me for balance: “Small risk is worth knowing about, but it’s not worth rearranging our whole lives around.” It’s one thing to make sure kids know it’s unacceptably dangerous to breathe gases from pressurized containers, and another to make it unlawful for responsible 17-year-olds to pick up the balloon supplies for the family wedding.
P.S. Several readers wrote to say that because of current federal policy helium winds up artificially underpriced, encouraging its use for frivolous purposes; more on that here.