Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Sniffing a Failure

By Simon Grose

Petrol sniffing in remote communities could best be combatted by giving young indigenous people a positive way to get out of it.

Simon Grose is a Director of Science Media (

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Substance abuse is a motif of our time. Elite male swimmers taking sleeping pills to get out of it together and AFL players taking Alzheimer’s medications to get up together on game day are recent additions to the trend. The use of steroids, ephedrine, testosterone and other stimulants go back a lot further.

The substances being abused are typically legal for medical or other applications. Their use gains headlines, but abuse of another legal substance is rarely reported.

Sniffing petrol is bad for you. It delivers an immediate high and hallucinatory buzz, but over time can cause chronic health issues and permanent brain damage. For young indigenous people in remote communities it has become a peer group response to their desolate existence.

In 2005, under then-Health Minister Tony Abbott, the government responded by mandating the use of low aromatic fuel in selected outback areas. About 25% of regular unleaded fuel is aromatics like toluene and xylenes; in low aromatic fuel they make up about 5%. It is currently sold by around 120 outback servos, and the government subsidises the production to the tune of 33¢ per litre.

This is set to expand following the passage earlier this year of the Low Aromatic Fuel Act, which makes it an offence to supply regular unleaded fuel in designated areas, a move to overcome resistance from some fuel suppliers...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.