'Huffing' Outcry Prompts YouTube to Clarify Policy

ByABC News
February 5, 2007, 3:33 PM

Feb. 6, 2007 — -- When Doug Fisher wrote a letter in December to YouTube ripping the video-sharing Web site for corporate irresponsibility, the New Jersey assemblyman didn't expect to hear back.

A series of YouTube videos featuring teens abusing inhalants crossed a line for the legislator, who has tried to make "huffing" a key issue in the New Jersey state legislature.

"Inhalant abuse is a growing phenomenon with kids from 12 to 14," Fisher said in an interview with ABCNEWS.com. "And it's the kids who are watching YouTube, not the parents."

Fisher introduced legislation last year that would ban the sale of keyboard cleaner, a common inhalant, to anyone under the age of 18. He also has heard from concerned constituents and visited schools where administrators -- many of them from middle schools -- describe a rise in the use of chemical-based substances to get high.

"Middle school has always been the age for the primary use of inhalants," said Harvey Weiss, director of the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition. "These are legal products they can find in their house or their school. And many parents feel like their children won't use inhalants, so they don't talk to their kids about them."

Inhalants broadly include any substance that gives off toxic chemical vapors. When inhaled, these products can induce a mind-altered state. The abuse of inhalants, known as huffing, can attack the central nervous system and can quickly lead to heart failure.

The age group with the greatest percentage of inhalant use -- more than 17 percent -- is eighth graders, according to a 2005 survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Seeing video clips of the potentially deadly behavior just a mouse click away pushed Fisher to act.

"The videos posted by YouTube users instruct and demonstrate how to abuse inhalants to the many millions of people viewing them," Fisher wrote in a Dec. 18 letter. "YouTube has a responsibility to remove any video showing the abuse of inhalants to ensure that it does not promote this inappropriate behavior among younger users that view the material."

Late last month, Fisher received a surprising response. YouTube was heeding to his demand.

In the Jan. 22 letter, Micah Schaffer, a senior specialist for YouTube's consumer operations group, informed Fisher that the Web site, in response to his letter, would change their "Community Guidelines" page to more explicitly restrict video clips featuring all types of drug abuse, including inhalants.

Currently, there is a bullet on that page that reads: "Don't post videos showing dangerous or illegal acts, like animal abuse or bomb-making."

"Since your letter brought this issue to our attention, this week we will be adding 'drug abuse' as one of the examples in our Community Guidelines," Schaffer wrote.