Reducing the harm of volatile substance misuse
As a manufacturer of aerosols, which contain volatile substances, we have a critical role to play in ensuring the safe use of our products. While the majority of people use our deodorants for their intended purpose, we are also aware a small number of people intentionally misuse them by inhaling the gas. This is called volatile substance misuse, or VSM – also known as inhalant misuse, chroming or huffing*.
Risks of VSM1
- Misuse of volatile substances is drug use – VSM involves the deliberate inhalation of household products such as gases, aerosols, nitrous oxide (nangs), petrol, glue, solvents and other volatile substances. Many of these commonly- used household products can be misused as inhalants, so it’s easy to think of their misuse as less dangerous than other drugs. In fact, they can be just as dangerous.
- Misusing volatile substances just one time can result in death or serious brain injury – anyone experimenting with volatile substances - no matter whether they are a regular user or it is their first time - is at risk of suffering a significant brain injury, or a heart condition called ‘cardiac arrhythmia’ – also known as ‘Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome’ (SSDS). Inhaling the volatile substances causes the heart to beat irregularly, and can potentially lead to the heart stopping altogether, with death resulting in minutes.
- Many volatile substances are highly flammable - burns, accidents and injuries are a very real risk. The fumes and gases given off by these products catching alight is a very real possibility.
Actions we have taken
Unilever is committed to raising awareness about the risks of VSM and reducing the impact of this issue on people and families. This work includes:
- Ongoing engagement with government, industry, and drug and alcohol experts, including as part of a QLD Government-led Inhalants Roundtable in 2019, to address inhalant misuse in Queensland.
- Exploration of different propellants: While we have explored alternative propellant options, to date no alternative has proven successful for anti-perspirant deodorants.
- Improvements to our packaging spray/valve design so that the full product is released when sprayed upside down, and it is not possible to spray pure gas/propellant.
- Enhanced warnings and labelling on our packaging. The warnings on our products are among the strongest in the market. The updates include stronger wording (referring to inhalant misuse rather than solvent abuse), increased font size by 50%, and a font colour change from black, to red.
- Engagement with retailers on anti-theft shelving solutions
- Working with experts at the Ted Noffs Foundation and other drug and alcohol experts across ANZ on how we might support future education campaigns.
Help and support
If you are involved in an emergency with someone who has been misusing inhalants, call 000 immediately to seek medical assistance. Remember, the key priority for medical practitioners is the safety of those they are helping (NOT getting people in trouble!). Do not hesitate to seek help.
If you misuse solvents, or if someone you know misuses them, then the following websites and resources may be helpful:
[*] A note on terminology: We use the terms VSM, inhalant misuse, “chroming” and “huffing” on our website because these are the terms typically used by experts and those dealing with issues involving solvents and gases.
 DARTA, 2023