Poppers – the Sweet Smell of Hypocrisy

Who’d ever thought a little glass bottle could cause so much damage? Originally developed to help people with serious heart conditions, these dangerous drugs are still being sold all over the country – and on the gay scene you can’t miss them.

GayMafiaWatch reports on one of today’s biggest and most controversial sexual health scandals which first emerged back in the early 1980′s when gay saunas, bathhouses and sex clubs in California stopped selling poppers in response to public health concerns at the height of the first AIDS crisis.

At the time little research had been conducted on the causes and affects of HIV/AIDS scientists and community figures agreed on one thing – poppers were in some way connected to an increase in unsafe sex amongst gay men, and inevitably HIV. Dozens of reputable studies exist that strongly suggest the direct inhalation of poppers can predispose the user to developing AIDS related illnesses including many types of cancer which gay men in particular tend to fall victim to such as Kaposi’s Sarcoma. Take a look at this comprehensive list of research published in the Lancet, the Journal of Toxicology-Clinical Toxicology, the British Medical Journal and the American Journal of Medicine to name just a few.

In 1990 the Anti-Drug Abuse Act came into force, effectively outlawing the commercial retail sale of poppers right across the United States and in 1996 the Medicines Act ruled that retailers selling poppers could be prosecuted in the United Kingdom. After escaping prosecution for many years through the abuse of a legal loophole which allowed poppers to be legally sold to the public as long as they are marketed as “Room odorisers” or ”Aromas” on the 24th August 2008 the most commonly sold formulation of these foul smelling, euphoria inducing gay glamour drugs (Isobutyl-Nitrate) finally became illegal.

The Government assumed the country would at last be free from the scourge of poppers once and for all but they assumed wrong. The manufacturers were already one step ahead of the game and simply sidestepped the move by altering the formula used from Isobutyl Nitrate to Isopropyl Nitrate . Many had already prepared the withdrawal and replacement of their existing brands with completely legal alternatives that are just as potent, just as profitable and just as dangerous.

50% of gay men admit to using poppers in the past 12 months”
Terrance Higgins Trust Gay Men’s Survey 2008

Cancer in a Bottle?

It’s well known that many gay men use poppers to relax whilst having anal sex, especially for the first time. Younger gay men or those just coming out are therefore much more likely to find a use for poppers, not only for the pleasurable and relaxing affects making anal sex more comfortable but also to allay fear and anxiety associated with their first gay sexual encounters. Unlike with alcohol and cigarettes, the relatively unregulated and discreet nature and convenience offered by by sex shops, saunas and internet mail order services ensures that any age restriction on the sale of poppers to under-age customers would be difficult to enforce. HIV is now at it’s highest rate ever, particularly amongst the current generation of young gay men in our big cities, many of whom failed to received adequate sexual health education at school due to Section 28 of the local government act which outlawed the “promotion of homosexuality” we are allowing our youth to dive head first into a minefield of risks, aware of the consequences.

Despite the massive amount of public resources being ploughed into safer-sex messages targeting Crystal-Meth users, binge drinkers and participants in other more well know high risk sexual behaviours, alarming research carried out by the Medical Research Council and the Terrance Higgins Trust has recently declared that poppers appear to be “the only drug associated with an increased risk of acquiring HIV” and concluded “if you sniff poppers there’s an increased risk of HIV transmission if you have unprotected sex”. In 2007 the Terrance Higgins Trust also released findings of a major new study which discovered 80% of HIV positive men used poppers compared to 58% who remained negative. The connection between HIV and poppers is indisputable.


Both human and animal studies indicate that poppers use significantly suppresses the immune system.” US Toxicology-Clinical Study

Flavour of the month?

Popular gay magazines, especially the free ones have numerous adverts promoting poppers from at least three separate retailers. None of these adverts state what they are intended to be used for, what the dangers are or what they contain. The current advertising campaign for Clone Zone’s relaunched brand of Ispoproyl Nitrates are covered with slogans such as “for your lifestyle” “extra strong aroma” and “new sensation”. One big gay nightclub in Manchester has even named a club night in honour of a popular brand of poppers and shamelessly used the bold imagery of poppers bottles in it’s promotional flyers and magazine adverts. They also sell poppers behind the bar. OutNorthWest regularly features similar prominent advertisements for poppers.

In it’s September 2008 pride special, timed to coincide with the complete Europe-wide ban on the sale Isobutyl-Nitrate, Clone Zone took out an entire half page advertisement dedicated to promoting their new “Xtreme Xtra Strong” brand of poppers. Directly beneath it on the same page is an advert for Cheshire’s gay and bisexual men only “Sauna Sauna” which also sells poppers. Despite featuring a very brief paragraph contained within an unrelated advertisement from the Terrance Higgins Trust on page 46 providing a very brief overview of the risks associated with poppers out the 87 pages in OutNorthWest, twelve of these pages promote outlets that sell poppers direct to the public. Despite the immense opportunity to do so in this free, glossy, popular publication which claims to have a readership of over 60,000 people – it’s publishers, the Lesbian and Gay Foundation (formerly Healthy Gay Manchester) failed to mention the news or the reasons behind the ban on Isobutyl-Nitrate. Given all the evidence and the fact that their main mission is to improve the health and well-being of the gay community surely they should be more concerned about the cost to our health than the revenues of their advertisers? The priorities of this NHS funded organisation are back to front to say the least.

Explicit adverts for new brands of poppers that remain legal due to a legal loophole. Adverts are often found places alongside adverts for gay saunas and escort services

Explicit adverts for new brands of poppers that remain legal due to a legal loophole. Adverts are often found places alongside adverts for gay saunas and escort services

Good for your night out? But how good for your health? Part of the above advert was printed in the September issue of OutNorthWest the official publication of the Lesbian and Gay Foundation, a charity which was established to promote sexual health within the North West’s gay community. The magazine makes most of it’s revenue from advertising. The magazine is available in libraries, colleges, universities, doctors surgeries, GUM clinics, clubs and bars where poppers are sold and GayMafiaWatch has had reports of the magazine including the adverts in several Manchester High Schools. The charity also receives funding from the local Primary Health Care trusts to develop health promotion initiatives for gay men whilst providing a platform for the dubious advertising of cancer causing brands of poppers. Is this a case of double standards or ethical bad practice? By accepting such advertising and placing it directly next to adverts for sexual services the Lesbian and Gay Foundation and Manchester NHS are directly advocating the use of poppers within the context of risky sex.

The Hard Sell?

An additional risk to ones health is also heightened through the co-use of poppers with drugs such as Viagra (stiffeners!). As both drugs cause the lowering of blood pressure, using them both together, particularly if someone already has a heart condition has proven fatal. One inevitable side effect of using poppers which occurs almost immediately after the rush wears off is the inability to maintain an erection, pretty bad news when you’re having a shag – and where you’re likely to find most people using poppers! To counteract this awkward side affect many guys are taking both without realising, or caring about the risks.

If that wasn’t worrying enough many saunas and mail order services that have made an undisclosed fortune through the sale of poppers over the years are also beginning to cash in on the market for prescription free alternatives to Viagra, and despite the lack of brand name or patent many of these readily available stiffeners now being peddled to the gay market through gay magazines and sex shops. One major sauna chain even has vending machines in the changing rooms selling packets for less than £10 right next to the poppers. Most of these hard-on inducing products contain a substance described as “herbal viagra” or “kamagra” with virtual the same effects as the real over-the-counter stuff and of course, the same risks. Those profiting from the sale of these dangerous drugs are well aware of the risks but will no doubt continue to sell them and earn a quick buck for as long as they can get away with it.

Popular gay club night glamourising imagery of a bottle of poppers to promote a club night on the same weekend the most popular brands became illegal

Popular gay club night glamorising imagery of a bottle of poppers to promote a club night on the same weekend the most popular brands became illegal. It's no wonder poppers are popular on the gay scene when clubbers and drinkers are bombarded with their normality.

Gay Gold Rush?

Combined with the rush, the desired psychological factor of decreased inhibitions, increased sexual libido and the placing of poppers for sale in venues where high risk behaviour is already prevalent such as clubs and saunas the question must once again be asked… Why are our bars, clubs, magazines, saunas, dating websites and sex shops found on gay scene so eager to continue promoting these dangerous substances despite the overwhelmingly strong evidence suggesting they are having a devastating effect on the gay community and the state of gay and bisexual men’s health?

The answer is pretty obvious, it’s all about the money, lots of it. The average bottle of poppers costs more than a pint of beer, more than a packet of cigarettes and certainly more than enough ecstasy pills to keep you dancing all weekend. Once opened the shelf life deteriorates and within a couple of weeks your once fragrant “room odoriser” begins to smell like the bottom of a footballers boot, and although there is still a small “rush” to be had from each sniff of your now binnable bottle of toxic chemicals, the headache, combined with the unbearable stench you’ll endure in pursuit of one last rush of euphoria just isn’t worth it. Keer-ching! Off you pop, down to the village for a new bottle. The profit margins are massive.

It’s time to ditch poppers once and for all.

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17 Responses to Poppers – the Sweet Smell of Hypocrisy

  1. Andi Sidwell says:

    An interesting article. Making poppers illegal, however, cannot be the solution to stopping people using them. After all, making other drugs illegal has done nothing to stop people using them, with some 30% of the UK population having used an illegal drug at some time in their lives.

    There can only be bad outcomes from making poppers illegal. The first is that people will instead get in touch with dealers of some kind to get poppers, rather than getting them from shops. (Unless you believe that in some way making something illegal will reduce demand for it, in which case, please talk to any of the 3% of the population who used cocaine last year.) Dealer contact will introduce lots of people to illegal markets, where other drugs are easily available and far more tempting (pills and coke will be on sale next to poppers). People will no longer know that what they’re buying are poppers (trading standards do not apply).

    Another risk is that in outlawing poppers, there will be more people working out how to make more potent forms of poppers. This is happening with cannabis at the moment (there is a trend towards more potent strains, away from hash and towards skunk), and it happened with alcohol in the US during the 1920s when they prohibited alcohol (everyone went from beers and wines to hard spirits).

    These issues are inherent in the nature of banning substances. However, if a ban is to make any difference, police will have to spend serious amounts of time and money cracking down on popper use and sale, which will criminalise potentially some 850 000 people who take poppers each year, and will be a waste of money and time, when such resources could be better spent on a whole range of other things.

    It would seem to be a far better proposition to instead licence the sale of such substances and to tax them more heavily. According to a paper published by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, taxes are the most effective way to lower usage of alcohol/tobacco, followed by an advertising ban. It is more effective to try and change people’s minds so that they don’t want to take poppers than to try and stop getting hold of them, and the current and failing war on drugs is a testament to this.

  2. [...] Why Poppers Should Not Be Made Illegal I read an article recently on poppers and the gay scene in the UK. Poppers are carcinogenic, and some variations of then are now illegal (in the EU, at least). They also significantly suppress the immune system, according to a host of studies. I don’t condone or urge against their use, but I certainly don’t think making them illegal is any solution. I wrote a lengthy comment on the article and have reposted it here, beneath the quote. The article in question is Poppers: the Sweet Smell of Hypocrisy: [...]

  3. We completely agree with you Andi, you make a very good argument. Making poppers illegal is certainly not the answer. The problems we’ve highlighted explain how the current system simply exploits the users of poppers and fails to inform them of the dangers. Making life harder on recreational drugs users by prosecuting them is most definitely not the way forward. Poppers can be enjoyed safely as long as both the users and retailers remain responsible.

    As a result of our article we’d like to acknowledge that the Lesbian and Gay Foundation have now removed ALL poppers advertisement from their health magazine “OutNorthWest”.

  4. [...] The charity’s dubious relationship with commercial sponsors who profit from the “Pink Pound” in Manchester’s gay village recently prompted us to investigate how the manufacturers of the popular recreational drugs marketed as “Poppers” (or “Room Odorisers”!) were using the LGF’s “community health and lifestyle” magazine “OutNorthWest” to direct their advertising at gay men – “Poppers the Sweet Smell of Hypocrisy“. [...]

  5. Starry Eyed Surprise says:

    i’ve just picked up this months outnorthwest world aids day issue and there is still an advert for clone zone’s “new” poppers in the back (although slightly more subtle)

    the link between poppers and hiv/immune disorders is irrefutable
    the link between hiv/barebacking and aids is a close one

    the duty of the LGF to protect and inform is obviously below their desire to publish trashy articles and provide advertising space to some very selfish, careless people and overall nothing short of wreckless and irresponsible.

    • rushpop says:

      I’m interested to know more about how you have made your opinion about poppers. You’ve asserted that there is a link between poppers and HIV and that it’s “irrefutable”. Please explain what your credentials are to make such a statement.

  6. steve clare says:

    People say isobutyl nitrite (poppers) is dangerous

    I am 43 and have used it every day for 25 years and now can’t get it as it has been banned!!!

    My sex life has come to an end!!!

    I am having suicide thoughts and feel like killing myself at the thought of no more sex.

    Banning it is also dangerous…don’t you think!!!!

    We know smoking is dangerous….but we smoke
    We know drinking alcohol is dangerous…but we drink
    I know isobutyl nitrite may be dangerous….I don’t care…it’s my life not yours…I know the facts!!!

    • Tom Grey says:

      Steve
      You say you’ve used poppers for 25 years. Have you lost any sensation of smell? I have used poppers for a few years and am worried this has caused me to loose my sense of smell as I cannot smell anything anymore. My sense of taste has also been reduced. I would much rather be able to taste & smell properly again than ever use poppers.
      Tom.

    • Andy Marks says:

      Where do you live? They may have been banned but you can still get them online RushPop.com for example is an authorized retailer of PWD Brands who carry the kind you are talking about.

      I agree as well; it’s all about personal choice. Some people choose to do weed, some crystal meth..I’ve never heard a story about someone addicted to Poppers who’d lost their home and family and couldn’t hold down a job because of popper use. I’ve never heard of someone having to check into rehab over poppers yet I’ve lost TONS of friends to heavy DRUGS that are a REAL PROBLEM. Certainly readers agree that other substances including perhaps even alcohol can be more of an issue than poppers.

  7. Andy Marks says:

    What a pitiful blame game for a terrible virus. Sounds like right wing conservatives and they have NO PLACE IN CALIFORNIA!

    I agree with the last comment as well banning is also a problem. If there is one thing I can’t stand it’s the hypocrisy of “don’t ask don’t tell” it just takes a would be non-issue and makes it an issue.

  8. Craig Taylor says:

    There is also a big problem with Fake RUSH Poppers being distributed. With the products being illegal it’s near impossible to detect and get the fake stuff out of the shelves.

    Sounds like cancer patients getting arrested for weed to me!

  9. popperdude says:

    Interesting and well written anti-popper propaganda. Couple of things I have learned reasearching poppers:

    1) The link between poppers and HIV + Kaposi’s Sarcoma is debatable to this day.
    2) Poppers are as carcinogenic as organic nitrites/nitrates found in foods we eat.
    3) Just because more gay men with HIV used poppers than gay men without HIV in NO WAY proves a correlation to poppers and HIV. That’s thee most ridiculous statement I’ve read.
    4) Inhaling nitrites or poppers causes about as much brain damage as drinking a pint of beer.
    5) Risky behavior (barebacking) and non-safe sex promiscuity are what kill our community and cause HIV – not poppers my friend.

    Demonizing poppers and there use is a huge waste of time when we have many more prevalent issues at hand in the LGBT community. Perhaps you should spend more time on our community’s internal hating and gay-bashing – for example?

    However as of writing this comment there is a huge popper “crisis” due to the main manufacturer and distributor of poppers, PWD Brand/PacWest being shut down after being raided by the US feds. The owner, Joe Miller, was also found dead. This and more are on my blog popperdude.blogspot.com.

    So you probably got your wish for now anyways.

  10. Martin Bryan says:

    Rush Poppers have now went out of business due to the death of the person that owned the business. Apparently suicide. Read more about it here http://www.the-poppers.co.uk

  11. angel says:

    I cant believe people are still pushing this crap about how poppers can somehow cause AIDS!
    Even the most illiterate person must know by now AIDS is caused by a virus/
    HIV – the very last letter of the acronym stands for VIRUS!
    This is exactly the kind of BS that gets discussion forums on the internet viewed with bemusement by many!

  12. James says:

    As a gay man who enjoys using poppers on occasions and also having a degree in biochemistry and a degree in chemical pathology, I find it strange that there is such an outcry to what is essentially a relatively harmless recreational drug. Research shows that there is little evidence of the Alkyl Nitrites (and it is nitrites not nitrates!!!)having long term detrimental health associations. There is a link with irresponsible sex by some and their use, but this I suspect is a factor of the individual not the drug. Before law makers and supposed scientific “do-gooders” (although I always question these peoples underlying motives…..closet homophobes!) race to ban a drug used relatively uncommonly, why not put a concerted effort into banning tobacco, which has been demonstrated to cause multiple health problems and is a major killer. I suppose however the loss in tax revenue and social outcry make little poppers a far easier target for ban obsessive and moralistic enterprise. Am I just a little cynical? Well anyways having the benefit of a chemical based education means that if bans on formulations do continue, I can always look to home brew!!

  13. Daz Cummins says:

    Isobutyl poppers are practically bloody HARMLESS!

    Been using them 25 years, am also 43, and have never been more miserable and BLIND WITH ANGER!

    Popperdude and Steve Clare are right on the money here – the stuff just isn’t bad for you, it’s been a fine addition to our sex lives for DECADES!

    Yeah, you can get dizzy or have a bit of a headache, or feel nauseous with overuse but that’s it. Just be careful.

    The “new improved UK formula” is a pile of shit that actually DOES harm you, it is jet fuel ffs!

    Cass Mann and his idiotic “crusade” had NO PROOF that poppers and HIV increase were related, and Kaposi’s Sarcoma is allowed by the HIV virus – nothing else! It’s an AIDS syndrome.

    Drinking and smoking do more damage, but that’s legal.

    The Isopropyl rubbish out now is AWFUL and has not been tested like Isopropyl. I personally HATE it, and I HATE Cass Mann and POSH for their selfish, bitter, twisted agenda in trying to shift blame to everybody’s favourite drug.

    It is YOUR responsibility who you fuck, YOUR responsibility how many people you fuck, YOUR responsibility to use protection, and YOUR responsibility to avoid rough practices unless you know what you’re doing – and please look at this as a caring, responsible lover, not some dreg who’ll do anybody – that’s how HIV spreads.

    Gays must wise up and be responsible, not yell “fire” when some idiot, dead, old queen and his sycophants throws out a tenuous link to poppers that has been disproven.

    Geez, it’s like banning drinking because you “might” get a hangover. Or cigarettes because they can make you cough a bit.

    Those 2 drugs are FAR more dangerous, but they’re taxed to the hilt.

    For FUCKS SAKE!!!

    Idiotic is too subtle a word.

    DAMN YOU, Cass Mann!

  14. A worth-while note in re: Amyl Nitrite and AIDS/HIV:
    The use of Amyl Nitrite (and all poppers) to facilitate sexual enjoyment is commonly acknowledged in gay subpopulations, and HIV infection is prevalent among homosexual men. As such Amyl nitrite and other poppers have been accused of helping to spread AIDS/HIV, however existing scientific studies on this topic do not justify the widespread belief that Amyl nitrite has been shown to help cause AIDS, or cause anything else for that matter. Physicians like prominent cardiologist John 0. Parker, M.D., and James Mosley, M.D., -the University of Southern California Medical School professor who heads the federal government’s largest, multi-million dollar program studying the AIDS virus and the nation’s blood supply-, have provided public testimony at governmental hearings considering the banning of “poppers”. Each had reviewed the evidence and stated under oath that he regards the claims of danger to be ill founded. When mediocre or even plain bad scientific research is politically exploited by AIDS institutions eager to appear to be earning their keep, or by the media — ever keen to fan any spark of controversy, or zealots riding their favorite hypothesis saddled up as fact, the public is in danger. -Bruce Voeller, Ph. D.

    Read more: http://www.drugs-forum.com/forum/showwiki.php?title=Amyl_Nitrite#ixzz1gSkW6AOV

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