Rotorua Coroner Wallace Bain is calling for action to stop
the "frightening" number of deaths from sniffing butane.
He says people need to be aware that even one huff from a
cigarette lighter or aerosol canister can kill.
Dr Bain made the call in his finding released today into the
death of a 16-year-old Rotorua boy, whose name is suppressed.
Dr Bain found the teenager died at Rotorua on January 31 last
year as a result of hydrocarbon (butane) inhalation.
On the night of his death he had been watching cricket with
his father and using his laptop. He went to his bedroom at
12.30am, telling his father he would see him in the morning.
Twenty minutes later his father noted the light was on in his
son's bedroom and he found his son lying on the bed. He
appeared to be asleep.
In the morning the boy's father went to his room and found
him in exactly the same position but it appeared he was dead.
A pathologist found the boy had inhaled butane gas which
caused a cardiac arrest and ventricular fibrillation.
Initially, butane was not suspected and it was not until the
ESR report and the full pathologist report was available that
the cause of death was established.
Dr Bain found there was no suggestion the teenager was
intending to take his life.
"It seems clear that it is an unfortunate combination of
events and perhaps a misplaced view that he might obtain
euphoria from the use of butane," Dr Bain said.
The teenager had had some heart issues when he was younger
but by the time he was 16 there were no significant medical
He was a smoker and a cigarette lighter and packet of tobacco
were found in the pocket of his jeans on his bed. Sometime
after the boy's death, his father found an empty aerosol can
of deodorant in the boy's bedroom.
The father had been concerned as he had been with his son
when he bought the deodorant a week earlier and he thought
the use of it was excessive, given it was empty when he found
Specialist evidence showed that one "huff" from a cigarette
lighter or the deodorant canister may be enough to kill
someone, especially for a person new to huffing.
ESR was unable to establish whether the butane had come from
the cigarette lighter or the deodorant canister.
"In respect of the cigarette lighter it is as simple as
pressing the button down and not igniting the flame."
Long term abusers of butane can suffer memory loss, disturbed
sleep, depression, personality changes and anxiety. There is
also an increased risk of cardiac failure.
Huffing was a very serious problem in New Zealand and since
2000 there had been 63 deaths from the practice. Of those 75
per cent were males and most were under 24.
"These statistics are frightening and decisive action is
required to help reduce these entirely preventable deaths of
New Zealand's young people," Dr Bain said.
The Chief Coroner had previously recommended several options
to help curb "huffing" including a national education
campaign, increased publicity and introducing age
restrictions with several retailers voluntarily implementing
their own restrictions.
"It seems to the court that the matter is one of education
and responsibility . . . The dangers of the practices do not
appear to be fully appreciated and that is why an educative
programme is, in the court's view, probably the most
instructive way of getting the necessary messages through in
an educative way, and in a way which stressed harm
prevention," Dr Bain said.
Dr Bain has recommended his findings be forwarded to the
Ministers of Youth Affairs, Social Development and Health for
them to take action.
Signs your child may be huffing
Chemical smell on their breath of clothing
Empty canisters in their room or where they spend their
Mood swings or a general change in behaviour not explained by
normal teenage behaviour
Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
Mixing with a new group of friends, especially if they hang
out in secluded places
- By Abigail Hartevelt of the Daily Post