Psychoactive Substances Bill

Written evidence submitted by Simon Topham, Chief Executive, Millivres Prowler Group (PSB 06)

I am the Chief Executive Officer of Millivres Prowler Group – the UK’s leading LGBT media and retail business. We have operated for over 40 years and have a very close relationship with gay community groups and health bodies.

In summary, my submission supports the proposed amendment to the bill exempting the substances commonly referred to as ‘Poppers’ from the bill.

We operate three licensed sex shops and media including Gay Times. We sell a product ‘Aromas’ (sometimes referred to as ‘poppers’). I would like to make the following points about the bill before Parliament:

1. The substances commonly referred to as ‘poppers’ have been used for decades by gay men. They are commonly used by gay men as a sexual stimulant and to help relax the muscles for anal sex. Despite being used for over 40 years there is no evidence that they cause any serious harm. This was confirmed by Professor Iversen of ACMD and by Dr Owen Bowden-Jones in their evidence to the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee. Furthermore there are numerous other scientific studies that confirm the little or no harmful effect of the inhalation of Nitrites.

2. Poppers are popular with the gay community and the reason why they are explicitly mentioned by the minister in relation to this bill is baffling and raises concerns of a substance popular amongst gay men being specifically targeted in a way that may be seen as discriminatory.

3. It has been stated by the Minister, Mike Penning, before the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee that ‘poppers will be banned’ under the Psychoactive Substances Bill. It is my submission that there is no logical reason to ban these products as there is no evidence of harm and the head of the ACMD has clearly stated (to the same committee) that they would not be banned under current legislation.

4. It is our opinion that the bill will cause the sale of poppers to go underground with potentially very harmful consequences. Gay men will not stop using ‘poppers’ and the bill does not aim to criminalise possession. I am already aware of many European based websites that sell poppers online and these will target UK consumers. The problem is that this will destroy a regulated trade and replace it with an unregulated supply.

5. If these substances are supplied by overseas websites then there will be no guarantee that the substances are not more powerful or contain unsafe substances. There will be no control

6. The main problem now is not the supply of these relatively harmless products but the unregulated sale of ‘poppers’ or poppers variants – in corner shops, garages or market stalls to anyone. In our view a sensible approach would be to encourage a carefully regulated regime – with Trading Standards using existing powers to limit sale of poppers to licensed sex shops only.

7. By this means the contents and formula of the substance can be regulated; the bottles clearly labelled with information around sensible use; child proof packaging enforced; and most importantly these substances would then only be sold to over-18 year olds (licensed sex shops must enforce over-18’s only rules). In my direct experience, licensed premises are well regulated (and regularly visited) by trading standards officers, local police officers and local authority officials.

8. I must also add that on a purely commercial level, the banning of these substances will result in the almost complete wipe-out of the regulated, licenced sex shop industry in the UK with the loss of thousands of jobs. This will gain nothing – the business will simply be carried out by overseas (unregulated) websites who pay no taxes and employ no people in the UK.

But this regulated sale of poppers can only take place if it is clear that the legislation is not intended against substances that cause little or no harm or if poppers (Isopropyl Nitrites) are exempted from the bill.

Thank you for your time.

October 2015

Prepared 27th October 2015