The boss of a charity which helps young people exploited by drug gangs has blasted government plans to criminalise laughing gas possession as a "distraction".

The change in the law would make the possession of nitrous oxide, sold in metal canisters, to be made a criminal offence for the first time as part of a crackdown on anti-social behaviour.

Norwich Evening News: Half-empty nitrous oxide cannisters in Fitzmaurice Park in Thorpe St Andrew found in November 2022Half-empty nitrous oxide cannisters in Fitzmaurice Park in Thorpe St Andrew found in November 2022 (Image: Gary Cooper)

READ MORE: Laughing gas ban ‘will not stop young people using it’

It is already illegal to produce or supply the gas for its psychoactive effects under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 and the law change would make production, supply and importation of nitrous oxide for human consumption illegal.

Dan Mobbs, chief executive of Norwich-based Mancroft Advice Project which supports 4,000 11 to 25-year-olds across Norfolk, said the government announcement was a distraction when there were vulnerable people being exploited by County Lines drug gangs.

Norwich Evening News: Dan Mobbs, chief executive of Mancroft Advice ProjectDan Mobbs, chief executive of Mancroft Advice Project (Image: Newsquest)

READ MORE: Calls to restrict nitrous oxide sales after canisters dumped in field

He added: "The cost of living crisis is not helping. If you are in a family where money is a struggle and gangs say they can get you clothes and money, it is very tempting.

"The gangs supplying heroin and cocaine are more of a concern rather than an emphasis on nitrous oxide possession."

Mr Mobbs was also confident there was a lot more anti-social behaviour related to alcohol and had concerns for young people's health from vaping.

He believed more work should be put into preventative measures and funds were needed for youth support work to tackle anti-social behaviour, although he accepted it would not be nice to find nitrous oxiode containers in public.

Norwich Evening News: Husband and wife Tracey and Gary Cooper from Thorpe St AndrewHusband and wife Tracey and Gary Cooper from Thorpe St Andrew (Image: Tracey Cooper)

Tracey Cooper, 57, from Hopton Close in Thorpe St Andrew, has previously raised concerns about half-empty canisters in Fitzmaurice Park.

She said: "The law change is brilliant. The big worry is about the health of those who use it. It can have life-changing effects."

A Norfolk Police spokeswoman said: "Anti-social behaviour is something we take seriously and tackle through beat managers, priority setting meetings and partnership working.”