The dangerous games teens play

22:03, Aug 30 2012

A single inhalation from a deodorant spray or cigarette lighter can be enough to kill, an inquest into the death of a teenage "huffer" has been told.

Detective Constable Robert Lyle said young people needed to take notice of how dangerous huffing can be.

"It is possible one sniff from a cigarette lighter, or a deodorant spray can, can cause death," he told the inquest into the 16-year-old, who died in Rotorua last year.

A report from the National Poisons Centre handed up at the inquest also stated a single "huff" of the propane or butane gases used in deodorants and lighters can be fatal.

The report, by Leo Schep, said the peak age for solvent abuse was between 13 and 15, with a decline from 17 onwards.

The father of the 16-year-old told Rotorua coroner Wallace Bain yesterday how he went to waken his son and found him cold and stiff.


"I pushed the door open and saw him lying in the bed and sleeping.

"The radio alarm and the cellphone alarm were blaring and I turned them off then and went to wake him.

"I touched him and his face and chest were cold and stiff," said the man, whose name was suppressed.

Paramedics declared the boy dead later in the morning. An autopsy at Waikato Hospital found he had died of hydrocarbon inhalation, which caused cardiac arrest. The autopsy revealed his brain was 25-30 per cent heavier than normal and swollen.

The inquest heard the boy had undergone a CT scan after being assaulted and concussed five months before his death. He had no other head injuries and was not on medication at the time of his death.

The father said he later found an empty deodorant spray under a pile of clothes in his son's room. He was surprised it was empty because he had bought it only eight days earlier.

A cigarette lighter, with a packet of tobacco, was found when police searched the boy's clothing.

"Huffers" inhale the gas vapours to achieve a high that lasts between five and 45 minutes, followed by nausea of up to 12 hours. The most commonly abused gases are propane and butane, used in aerosols and lighter fluid.

"LPG products are popular amongst youth because they are easy to obtain, inexpensive, simple to hide and easy to get high," Dr Schep's report said.

On average, three people die in New Zealand each year of solvent abuse; most are aged between 11 and 20.

The father said: "We need to publicise the dangers of this sort of thing as much as we can.

"It's all about educating people not to do it."

Mr Bain said it was possible the boy had either sniffed the butane/propane gas in the deodorant spray can, or butane from the cigarette lighter.

He has reserved his decision.


What's in deodorant and cigarette lighters?

Butane is a gas used in lighters and as a propellant in aerosol sprays.

National Poisons Centre toxicologist Leo Schep says it can cause drowsiness, suffocation, heart palpitations, temporary memory loss or death when inhaled, typically by "sudden sniffing syndrome".

When sprayed, butane cools rapidly and can cause frostbite on lips and tongues.

Propane is often mixed with butane in aerosols and lighter fluid.

It is also used as a cooking and heating fuel in its liquid form, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). Inhaling propane has similar risks to butane. Smoking can cause volatile solvents to ignite, resulting in death or injury.

Contact Mike Watson
Taupo reporter

The Dominion Post