Tough on gum. Tough on the chewers of gum

Discarded gum is a nuisance, but was it really worth £60,000 of your money to profile its chewers?
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Indy Politics

One way of looking at it is that it is a laughable waste of public money. Alun Michael, the rural affairs minister, used £60,170 of taxpayers' money to pay for a chewing gum segmentation survey, commissioned by the Chewing Action Group.

One way of looking at it is that it is a laughable waste of public money. Alun Michael, the rural affairs minister, used £60,170 of taxpayers' money to pay for a chewing gum segmentation survey, commissioned by the Chewing Action Group.

The 162-page survey, based on 1,000 street interviews, has furnished the Government with "valuable information about the different ways in which gum chewers dispose of gum after use, and will assist by informing campaigns to change behaviour," Mr Michael said.

It will help his department as it draws up the Clean Neighbourhoods Bill, trailed in last week's Queen's Speech, which will give councils new powers to deal with litter and other petty annoyances.

Though discarded chewing gum may seem like a small thing to engage the attention of ministers, the thinking behind it is the so-called "broken-window" effect: that if you deal with the little things that make a neighbourhood unpleasant, it becomes much easier to tackle more serious forms of anti-social behaviour.

Anne McIntosh, the Tory environment spokeswoman, dismissed the survey as "ridiculous", but agreed that the problem is serious. A law passed in Margaret Thatcher's time, introducing on-the-spot fines for those who discard gum, has not worked.

In 2003, local councils received half a million complaints about gum on pavements. Clearing gum costs £150m annually in the UK. It cost £8,500 in 2003 just to remove it from Trafalgar Square. At any time, there are about 300,000 pieces of gum stuck to benches and pavements in Oxford Street.

Information gathered in the survey includes details about the sort of kids who chew gum, why they do it, how they dispose of it, and why those who leave it on the pavement do not know or do not care that they are a nuisance.

There are 28 million gum chewers in the UK, spending over £240m on 935 million packets a year. The typical chewer is a female from the north of England, aged under 24, who either does not read a newspaper or reads The Sun. The survey identifies five types, and provides an artist's line drawings of them.

The "Selfish Cleanser" is a well-dressed young woman who chews gum because it freshens her breath or helps her stop smoking. She dislikes the sight of other people's discarded gum, but does not give much thought to others when disposing of her own. She will happily spit it out of her car window.

The"Bravado" is a young, male Sun reader who likes people to see him chewing gum. People in this group give even less thought to others as they dispose of their gum. They think it is smart to spit out the gum and kick it.

The "Excuses, Excuses" type is also anti-social about disposing gum, but does not show off. "If I was with a guy, I'd do it while he wasn't looking," one said. The type is made up primarily of girls for whom gum is a substitute for sweets.

The "Whatever" is most likely to be a 14- to 18-year-old who does not read any newspapers. The favourite disposal method is throwing or spitting the gum on the floor.

The "Revolted" gum chewer is less of a problem, because she hates other people's discarded gum, so she is careful about putting her own in the bin or throwing it down a drain. She is also more likely than others to be a southerner, and a Daily Mail reader.

Additional reporting by Fran Yeoman

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