Singapore's ban on chewing gum finally comes unstuck

Click to follow
The Independent Online

For 12 years, Singaporeans lived in fear of being caught committing the most heinous crime imaginable: chewing gum. Now the tightly controlled city-state has lifted its ban on gum - but only registered users will be allowed to indulge.

For 12 years, Singaporeans lived in fear of being caught committing the most heinous crime imaginable: chewing gum. Now the tightly controlled city-state has lifted its ban on gum - but only registered users will be allowed to indulge.

Gum is being sold for the first time since 1992, but only at chemists, and customers have to supply names and identity cards before they are supplied. Chemists who flout the law could be jailed for up to two years and fined £1,600.

The notorious ban was imposed by the country's founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, who complained that chewing gum was fouling the streets and turning up on buildings, buses and subway trains. The sale, importation and manufacture of gum was outlawed throughout Singapore, which is renowned for its immaculate streets and social controls.

Omnipresent signs warned residents and visitors of heavy penalties for daring to chew gum. Some Singaporeans imported it illicitly from Malaysia, just over the border, but chewed it only in their homes.

The decision to legalise it was not motivated by a sudden attack of progressiveness on the part of the government. Rather, the ban had become a sticking point in Singapore's free trade talks with America.

At the talks, Representative Philip Crane, whose home state of Illinois is the headquarters of the chewing gum giant Wrigley, applied some pressure. The city-state had no choice but to give way. The outcome was a compromise, with Singapore agreeing to allow only the sale of "therapeutic gum" in pharmacies. Nicorette gum, designed to help smokers kick their habit, has been available since March.

The Health Sciences Authority has now allowed the sale of 19 "medicinal" and "dental" gum products, which reached the shelves this week. Among the gum now available is Wrigley's Orbit, which the company claims is good for teeth.

Singaporeans have long derided the ban, and many are unimpressed by the reform. Fayen Wong, 22, a student, pointed out that prostitution is legal and registration is not required of clients. "It's ridiculous that it's easier for 16-year-olds to visit prostitutes than it is to get chewing gum here," he said. "Why would I go through the trouble of getting nicotine gum if I can buy a pack of cigarettes without giving my name? I don't think the new rules will help smokers to quit."

The Straits Times, which has close ties with the government, said street cleaners were complaining about the return of used wads of gum to their once pristine pavements.

Singapore has been trying in recent years to shed its repressive image and promote itself as a cosmopolitan hub of the arts and media in Asia. But it still censors many films and television programmes, bans satellite dishes and outlaws numerous books, magazines and songs. People can be fined for crimes as trivial as spitting or failing to flush public lavatories.

Comments