Why Consumption of Chewing Gum is against the law in Singapore which Can Even Fine you $2000
Most of the people pop gum into their mouths while engaging in different forms of activities. For some, it is a way of warding off bad breath, while others satisfy their craving for something sweet without giving a second thought. This is what makes chewing gum one of the most consumed products around the world. People are surprised to know about the existence of land following the bizarre law of not selling chewing gum.
The bizarre law exists in one of the famous and most visited travel destination Singapore. Here, it is legal to own a gun, marrying your cousin, but the consumption of chewing gum in the city attracts steep fines. With the coming to light in the early 1990s, the ban on the sale of chewing gum is the most acclaimed law internationally, thereby attracting the Western Journalists focusing on the law while describing their experiences of the city-state.
The Ministers of National Development was the first to approach Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister for banning chewing gum in the country in the early 1980s, a decade earlier than it was legally implemented. During the years, some initial control was enforced including a ban even on the television advertisements that promoted the sale, production, and consumption of chewing gums.
Initially Lee Kuan Yew opposed a complete ban, however, the opponents thought it to be a drastic measure and could be easily fixed employing education and levying fines against the offenders, especially those who repeated it.
However, all these changed in 1987 when the Mass Rapid Transit system was launched. The MRT was a system of trains and at that time was the largest as well as the most expensive public project executed in Singapore. The cost system totalled $5 billion, exciting the politicians and brimming them with enough curiosity about the way it would be modernizing and revolutionizing the city-state. Vandals began to stick chewing gums on the sensors present in the doors of the trains, malfunctioning them that resulted in long disruptions of the train services, officially wearing out welcoming of the gums on the island.
The Environment Ministry (ENV), in December 1991, released a statement that explained the ban was imposed because chewing gum littering disrupted the smooth running of the MRT trains. Between July and August 1991, gum sticking between MRT train doors caused the trains to stop the doors not to close fully. These two incidents led to train disruptions with passengers disembarking before the train could move again. The careless disposal of the used chewing gum created problems in cleaning, in public areas such as housing estates and cinemas.
The problems created by chewing gum litter was identified in 1983, which was brought up by the then Foreign Affairs and Culture Minister, S. Dhanabalan. The same year it was re[ported that for several years, the Housing Development Board reportedly spent S$150,000 annually for cleaning and scraping off the gums accumulated in the sidewalks, keyholes, around the housing estates and in the seats of public transportations.
The ban, in 1992 was introduced by the President, Goh Chok Tong with strong opinions for and against the ban. Some people were relieved that they wouldn’t have to face the nuisance regularly while some frowned for changing their habits. Those people who found gum sticking at the bottom of their shoes or hands were found relieved, while the law was unfair to those who consumed these gums regularly. It came like a boon on the people involved in scraping the gum off surfaces and cleaning the public and private areas.
The implementation of the law reflected individuals’ freedom, when one resident provided opinion by stating, “The government cannot have control over whether I can or can’t chew gum. This is simply ridiculous”. On the other hand, a resident being quite happy that he will not have to see gum marks while on his way to work stated, “The footpaths look a lot nicer now”.
The store owners, who used to sell chewing gums and were restricted due to the ban imposed, disliked the ban because they were left with several stocks of chewing gum, which they could have sold or exported overseas because of the strong Singaporean currencies and high importing duties prevalent during the time. However, the ban had given the desired effect over the city-state, with a significant decrease in chewing gum littering cases. From 525 cases per day, before 1992 reduced to two cases per day in February 1993. Town councils reported a drastic reduction in chewing gum littering on pavements, lift floors, public benches and prevented jamming the lift floors. Bedok Town Council reported savings in cleaning costs while City Centre Town Council saved by dropping the idea of purchasing a high-pressure water jet for cleaning off the gum stains.
People managed their best in getting their hands on chewing gum in Singapore. They ventured down the border of Malaysia to Johor Bahru for obtaining their gums. The Singaporean government never tried ceasing the people from doing so, however, levied heavy fines, which ranged from $1 million or a prison sentence up to two years against those who found selling the chewing gum.
In terms of the law of the land, the ban on chewing gum is considered an extension of the littering law and hence the penalties are similar to the littering laws. The littering requires a fine of $500-1000 on their first offence and $2000 for repeaters and are assigned a Corrective Work Order (CWO), implemented in November 1992. While serving a CWO for violating the littering laws, the offenders put on a bright coloured jacket while clean the public places. Often the media is involved in covering the event, sharing the severity of the punishment, though being an additional public shame.
However, later in 2004, the United States-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (USSFTA) came to the rescue of the Singaporean public, which revised the law of banning chewing gum. Singaporean government lifted the ban partially and allowed the sale of chewing gum, which is considered to have health benefits. These included products such as dental-health gum and nicotine gum for assisting people who want to quit smoking.
The government further stated that these chewing gums could only be sold in the pharmacies and consumers would require providing their name and identity for obtaining them. Pharmacists selling the gum without collecting required information were fined up to $2940 along with two years of imprisonment. The penalties for violating restrictions on chewing gum such as fines, imprisonment, and CWO were considered severe by the tourists. Spitting in public and not flushing public toilets were considered activities on which severe penalties were imposed.