Doctors in Britain are to campaign for an end to the "frivolous" use of helium in party balloons as they fear a shortage of the non-renewable gas could jeopardise its vital use in medical equipment.
Anaesthetist Dr Tom Dolphin said using helium in balloons was a "colossal waste" of the element, which is used in MRI scanners and mixed with oxygen to make Heliox to aid people who have difficult breathing.
But another doctor said banning helium in balloons could lead to an increase in the use of nitrous oxide - also known as laughing gas or hippy crack.
Dr Trevor Pickersgill told the British Medical Association's annual representatives meeting: "Glastonbury this week will be carpeted with the small whippets - the gas canisters used commercially to whip cream at four times the volume of air - but it's used as a legal high in clubs and in the home and elsewhere."
Dr Pickersgill said at least 17 people had died in the UK after inhaling the gas, which is sold in balloons for around £2 per dose and makes users feel euphoric and relaxed.
Dr Dolphin said:"This invaluable, irreplaceable gas is being literally handed to children in balloons so they can be entertained for a few minutes until they get bored and let go."
"I'm not saying we should stop all party balloons, just those that we're filling with extremely expensive, precious, non-renewable unique gases we're going to miss when they're gone."