Up to 14 per cent of Israeli youngsters aged 12 to 18 have tried gas or solvents
A 16-year-old boy plunged to his death from the roof of a Netanya school on Saturday, drawing attention to a normally ignored problem among Israeli teenagers.
Police say that the boy, Sisai Astan, had been on the roof of Rashi School inhaling gas from air conditioning units along with three other boys.
"They were up there to inhale air conditioner gas and there was an argument that took place. One of the youngsters pushed another off the roof," said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.
According to the government's Anti-Drugs Authority, inhalation of air conditioning gas is rife among Israeli teenagers. Its research indicates that some 14 per cent of youngsters aged 12 to 18 have tried it or some other form of solvent abuse. Almost all air conditioners contain gas, and teenagers simply disconnect the tube which carries gas from the tank and inhale.
While all solvent abuse is dangerous, inhaling air conditioning gas is particularly risky as it often takes youth up to roofs or balconies where units are located. The high which air conditioning gas induces involves a loss of coordination and can makes people argumentative and violent.
Mr Astan was the third youngster to die after plunging from a rooftop inhaling session within seven years.
"You hear about it when there's such a disaster but when it's in the ground where the air conditioning unit is and there's no fall, nobody knows or cares," said Yair Geller, director general of the Anti-Drugs Authority.
He said that with the exception of trying to educate parents - who are often unreceptive, seeing it as a less serious problem than tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs - "there's nothing you can do because it's legal."
Expert Gila Chen said that in a country with so many air conditioning units "it's drugs for the poor - it's everywhere and anyone can get it."
Dr Chen, a lecturer in criminology at Bar Ilan University, stressed that inhalation is widespread among "normative kids".
Richard Isralowitz, director of Ben Gurion University's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Resources Centre, said he is concerned for the futures of youngsters who inhale, as research indicates that solvent abuse is a "gateway" to the abuse of tobacco and alcohol.