Isle of Man Government
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Isle of Man Government Office of Fair Trading

Intoxicating Substances/Solvents

Volatile Substance Abuse - a guide for businesses

Volatile Substance Abuse (VSA), commonly known as 'glue sniffing', is essentially the inhaling of fumes given off by a wide range of substances found in everyday products.

The supply of these substances to people under the age of 18 is controlled by the Children and Young Persons Act 1966:

  • it is an offence to supply or offer to supply a substance to a person under the age of 18, or to a person who is acting on behalf of a person under that age, if you know or suspect that the substance is, or its fumes are, likely to be inhaled for the purpose of causing intoxication.

Substances may be supplied to persons under the age of 18 for legitimate, i.e. intended, uses.

A person found guilty of an offence is liable to a fine of up to £5,000 and/or six months imprisonment.

What is an intoxicating substance?

One of the most distinctive factors of VSA is that the substances abused have legitimate everyday uses. Many products commonly found in homes, schools and workplaces may be used for the purpose of VSA, for example, in the average home there are over 30 such products. For a detailed list for businesses, please contact Paul Dawson on 686513.

Recognising the signs of VSA

Some of the more obvious signs:-

  • the smell of glue or similar on a customer's clothes
  • a customer behaving in a drunken manner - slurred speech, glazed eyes, unsteady on the feet, drowsy, confused and possibly even aggressive
  • spots and sores around a customer's mouth and nose
  • a customer purchasing a product that may be used for the purpose of VSA frequently or in bulk
  • a customer purchasing plastic bags and a product that may be used for the purpose of VSA at the same time

Bear in mind that the age at which young people experiment with intoxicating substances is generally much younger than for illegal drugs and that death due to VSA often occurs during or immediately following the first occasion on which a young person experiments.

Enforcement of the law

This Office enforces the law and takes steps to reduce instances of non-compliance by:-

  • educating and advising businesses
  • investigating complaints
  • using young volunteers to attempt to buy age-restricted products - the volunteers behave as ordinary customers under supervision - strict guidelines ensure that the exercise is fair

Good advice

  • refuse to sell cigarette lighter refills if the customer is under the age of 18
  • refuse to sell a product that may be used for the purpose of VSA if the customer is under the age of 18 and cannot give you a genuine reason for buying the product - ask for proof of age and keep a book to record details of refusals
  • identify products that may be used for the purpose of VSA and consider moving displays of the products concerned nearer to or behind the counter - consider displaying dummy packs
  • make members of staff aware of the products that may be used for the purpose of VSA and advise them on the action they must take - ask them to read this information - we can supply copies on request
  • EPOS systems can be used to remind staff of age restrictions via prompts - alternatively, place stickers over the barcodes on products that may be used for the purpose of VSA
  • display statements in the counter area of your policy regarding sales of products that may be used for the purpose of VSA

Judging the age of a customer

We strongly recommend that you only accept the Isle of Man Government's Proof of Age 18+ Card produced by this Office (for more information on the card click here), a driving licence or a passport as a means of establishing a customer's age.


The law exists to safeguard the health of young people and, whilst we prefer to achieve compliance by educating and advising businesses, we may in some circumstances prosecute offenders without warning.

We are always ready to give advice to reputable businesses, so please do not hesitate to contact us.

This information is not an authoritative interpretation of the law and is intended only for guidance.

Useful website:

Visit for more information on Volatile Substance Abuse.

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