Chroming is the inhaling of toxic spray can paint fumes in order to experience the dizzying rush or high that soon follows. A growing problem in Australia, or more specifically the state of Victoria, chroming is usually performed by children and teenagers between the ages of 11-16.

People who perform the act, labelled as 'chromers' by the Australia media, will spray cans of paint into open plastic bags. They then procede to sniff the fumes. The high that follows takes effect within 3-5 minutes and will leave the chromer feeling less inhibited, excited and similar to that of a drunken state. Different people will experience varying degrees of these 'highs'. Some become easily irritated and uneasy, others feel euphoric.

Short-term chroming, which is significantly more widespread than long-term use, is not too likely to cause permanent damage. Depending on the individual it may bring on nosebleeds, drowsiness, adominal pains, diarrhoea, vomiting, bad breath, flu-like symptoms and other sickness. A rash around the mouth and nose has sometimes been reported, often called 'sniffer rash'. One of the major risks is suffocation via the plastic bag used. Some people have choked on their own vomit. Usually symptoms disappear within a few hours.

The long-term effects are quite serious. Some chemicals, eg. trichlorofluoromethane, can increase the risk of a heart attack. The spray paint contains copper, zinc and tin -- these substances can build up in the body and cause severe damage to the liver, kidneys, brain, nervous system and the circulatory system. The build up will also irritate the lining in the stomach and intestines. Spraying directly into the mouth may cause the larynx to go into a spasm. It may seem like a stupid thing to do, but if you've lost all inhibitions, it just may happen. As well as all this, long-term chromers may turn pale or appear sickly, be plagued by drowsiness, lose weight and develop an unusually strong thirst. Some chemicals may hamper the production of blood, resulting in anaemia. Irregular breathing patterns, irregular heartbeat, tremors, seizures have all been reported. Some chronic sniffers have even fallen into comas. Pregnant women are doing serious harm to their babies when inhaling paint fumes -- premature labour is likely to result. If this wasn't enough, blood vessels in the eyes may burst and cause blindness. Chromers may find they are unable to think logically and experience memory loss.

There are also withdrawal symptoms. Often these symptoms are only mild. Depression, anxiety, loss of appetite, irritability, aggressive behaviour, nausea, tremors and dizziness. After long-term chroming, one does develop a tolerance and/or dependance, both physical and psychological. There is treatment in the form of counselling, medication and group-therapy. There are many welfare houses that will do their best to assist a chromer with dropping the habit and recovering from any symptoms experienced. There are no sure signs that someone has been chroming. Yet some indications are finding unusual amounts of spray cans in someone's possession, rashes around the mouth and nose, the smell of chemicals on a person's clothing and slow, drunken behaviour.

Some figures estimate that 24% of Victorian Secondary School students have tried inhalants such as paint fumes, but I do believe these figures are inflated. A Victorian Secondary School student myself, I have never come across anyone who inhaled such things, nor do I know of anyone who knows of a chromer. Other figures from 1998 have stated 3.9% of all Australians had used inhalants at some time in their life, and so it is unlikely that inhaling paint fumes has become *that* widespread among our youth in the space of four years. The majority of people who chrome will only do it a few times in the name of 'experimenting'. It is uncommon for someone to go on chroming on a regular basis, but it does happen. Personally, I have found that young people view chroming as a stupid and primitive way of getting high, but perhaps I just don't live in one of the areas where chroming is widespread. If there are such areas...

Various members of the public are starting to place blame on the media for the recent rise in numbers of chromers. Many believe that the idea of doing such a thing wouldn't occur to kids if it wasn't jammed down their throats by constant media coverage. Nevertheless, this same constant media coverage is bringing the issue to the government's attention with the hope of outlawing the practice.

Methods of prevention have been widely debated in recent times. The most common suggestion is to ban the selling of spray cans to minors; this may not work so effectively as paint cans are pretty much a common household item. One municipalty in Melbourne has actually banned the selling of spray paint to minors, but for a totally different reason -- to reduce graffiti.

Chroming is not illegal in Australia, and thus if children are caught chroming by a policeman or woman, he or she cannot do anything about it. The government is working on changing this, seeing the act of chroming is potentially fatal. Thankfully, chroming is banned in all state-run facilities. There was one case when a welfare home was supervising young kids while they chromed; the media turned this into a full blown scandal and supervision has since ceased.

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