Chewing Gum Ban in Singapore
Perfection is probably what Singapore aims at, especially when it comes to maintaining their reputation of being a seamlessly clean country. It is interesting to note that a harmless human activity such as chewing some gum could put one on the wrong side of the law with the possibility of facing a hefty fine, or worse, jail term. It is no wonder that since its enactment in 1992, the ban on chewing gum in Singapore has garnered so much attention and media coverage worldwide.
Greater attention was sparked especially among US journalists after American teenager, Michael Fay who was charged with vandalism by spraying paint on cars, was sentenced to caning. These events which took place in the early 1990s have since drawn attention to Singapore’s “odd” laws with its associated corporal punishments, fines and possible jail terms.
Why the Ban?
It is not far from obvious that the prohibition was meant to ensure that the standards of cleanliness and order were properly maintained, as the yucky behavior by certain individuals was inhibiting the desire of authorities at the time. Considering that this is a problem every country can bear witness to how much monetary effort it takes each year to get rid of gum stuck on bus seats, train doors, sidewalks and public areas, Singapore happened to be one of the first to directly deal with the challenge.
Origin of the Chewing Gum Ban
A proposal forwarded to the first Singaporean Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew in 1983, is stated to have set the ball rolling for the ban. The proposal which was given by the Minister for National Development at the time, Teh Cheang Wan mainly reported that the chewing of gum and subsequent disposal at inappropriate public places was causing serious problems in maintaining public-housing flats. It was revealed that it had become frequent to find stale gum stuck in keyholes, mail slots, and elevator buttons, as well as staircases and pavements at public spaces. These were drastically increasing the cost of cleaning while damaging equipment.
Initially, an outright ban on the chewing on gum felt like a radical measure, thus Lee Kuan Yew began taking action on the menace by prohibiting advertisements that encouraged its sale and consumption. The problem however persisted until after the Mass Rapid Transit, a local transportation system worth about $5 billion and happened to be one of the biggest projects began running in the country. There were reports that certain miscreants were sticking gum on the sensors of the train doors, causing them to malfunction and eventually disrupt the train services. Though these incidents only happened on rare occasions, and was almost impossible to find the offenders, they cost the state a fortune. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back, causing the official enactment of the ban in Singapore. Goh Chok Tong who had assumed the role of Prime Minister prior to that period and enforced the ban in January 1992.
Soon after the announcement of the ban, the import of gum ceased. The government however allowed a transition period within which local vendors were supposed to clear the remaining stock to make way for the complete embargo on its sale.
The introduction of this new law was received with a lot of controversy and mixed reactions. While a section of the population was relieved to know that they no longer need to worry about getting gum stuck under their shoes or go through the unpleasant experience of actually touching freshly chewed gum in a bus or on a door, others thought it was an unfair law for ardent gum lovers. People who earned their living from scraping gum off public property were affected negatively. Again, some argued that it was a ridiculous infringement on a person’s freedom, while others appreciated the neatness it brought to pathways now rid of spent gum.
For individuals who just couldn’t help themselves, they had to go through the pain of travelling to the neighboring city of Johor Bahru in Malaysia to buy some gum. Smugglers found with gum were humiliated publicly to deter potential offenders. This prevented the emergence of a black market for gum, with the exception of a few successful smuggles.
Penalty for munching gum in Singapore
Despite the heavy ban on its sale, some individuals still managed to find and possess gum in the country. The Government, counteracting this development placed hefty fines of up to $100,000 USD or a jail term summing up to 2 years, against anyone found selling gums. This penalty is akin to the fine placed on littering where first time offenders will have to pay between $500 and $1000, and $2000 for recurrent offences.
Revising the Ban
Talks between then President of the United States, Bill Clinton and Singapore’s Goh Chok Tong on a bilateral free trade agreement between both countries began as early as 1999. These talks persisted till the government of President George W. Bush, reaching its final negotiating phase in 2003. At the final stage, two issues comprising of the Iraq War and chewing gum remained unsettled.
The bubblegum issue managed to feature in the discussions of the United States-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (USS-FTA), mainly after American-based gum producers, the Wrigley Company solicited the help of Phil Crane, a lobbyist and chairman of a US trade subcommittee, to get the law redressed. The ban was mildly revised in May 2003, after Singapore considered the health benefits derived from certain medicinal gums.
Following the signing of the USS-FTA in 2004, the popular ban on chewing gum has become slightly lenient. Today, one is allowed to buy chewing gum known to be beneficial such as nicotine and dental gum from pharmacies with a prescription.
Tourists visiting Singapore may also be allowed to carry a maximum of 2 packs of gum. However, if you are a tourist visiting Singapore, you shouldn’t take this for granted since you would be liable to pay a steep monetary fine if caught with more than 2 packs, found spitting or littering with munched gum in public.