ROCHESTER, NY — If you’re younger than 21, you should still be able to buy a can of whipped cream in New York.
You just can’t buy a whippet, or whip-it, a small nitrous oxide-filled charger used to aerosolize the dessert topping.
On Monday afternoon, Democratic state Sen. Joseph Addabbo issued a statement to clarify the intent of a law he sponsored to combat the problem of teenagers getting high by inhaling nitrous oxide from whippets.
“There has been a misinterpretation of the language and intent of the bill,” Addabbo wrote in an emailed statement. The measure is not meant to prevent people younger than 21 from buying cans of whipped cream, he said, as has been reported by a number of media outlets. Rather, it targets the sale of whippets, sold individually or in packs to recharge refillable whipped cream canisters.
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Commonly called “laughing gas,” nitrous oxide also is used as a sedative for dental and medical procedures and promotes short-term euphoric and dissociative effects.
When the confusion began
The confusion over its approach apparently began when a convenience store in New York’s Capital Region alerted customers that as of Aug. 12, it would only sell cans of whipped cream to people 21 and older.
Addabbo, who represents the central and southeastern portions of Queens, said in an earlier statement that he had gotten complaints from constituents about empty whippet chargers littering neighborhood streets. “This law will help to protect our youth from the dangers of this lethal chemical, while helping to clean up our neighborhoods,” he said.
A photo of a sign posted at a Stewart’s Shop convenience store announcing the policy change began circulating online and was reported on by an Albany TV station before being picked up by other media.
Based on the legislation, anyone selling whippets to someone younger than 21 faces a $250 fine for a first offense and up to $500 for each subsequent violation.
What is a whippet? A small nitrous oxide-filled charger
Recreational use of nitrous oxide is not new. Members of the British elite were said to have flocked to “laughing gas parties” during the late 1700s, a few years after the drug was first synthesized. In recent decades, its misuse has been common at music festivals.
However, lockdowns resulting from the coronavirus pandemic have been linked to increased levels of substance abuse overall, according to the National Institutes of Health, and illicit use of nitrous oxide has become more widespread.
Inhalants are especially appealing to adolescents because they are legal, inexpensive and easy to obtain, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration pointed out in a 2017 paper. In addition, the floating high they produce makes their use easy to conceal.
There is no safe level of recreational nitrous oxide, according to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, which says it can result in a loss of blood pressure, fainting, heart attack and death, and with prolonged use cause depression and psychosis.
The law went into effect Nov. 25, 2021. The Albany Times-Union reported that ID checks for sales of canned whipped cream had only begun recently at stores in that part of the state and quoted Kent Sopris, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores, as saying the delay was because of an issue with tracking the law.
Although, again, Addabbo emphasized that it targets whipped cream chargers, not cans of whipped cream.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism