This is a holiday season in Singapore.
We get our longest break from school in the last 8 weeks of the year (and it is ending soon). Being cooped-up in this tiny 710 km² (274 mi²) island state, working and studying hard, the people here cannot wait to get out and do some traveling during this time.
One of the things that Singaporeans flock to enjoy while they are out of this place is 'chewing gum'. This is because it is not available back home. It is quite unthinkable to see people with an estimated (2008) per capita income of US$52,000 being deprived of simple joy like that.
Chewing gum was sold commercially since the 1800s. It is a source of enjoyment for many and it is also a source of nuisance when spent gum is improperly disposed.
Singapore was not immune to this form of public nuisance either.
In 1983, the Minister for National Development was sick and tired of seeing chewing gum stuck in the lift buttons, stairways and pavement of public housing flats. He suggested to Lee Kwan Yew (Prime Minister then) that the substance be banned. Lee thought it was a move too drastic and nothing was done.
In 1987, Singapore had the new multi-billion Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) rail system. It was the biggest public project at that time and naturally the Singapore government was excited about it.
Unfortunately, the chewing gum vandals did not spare the MRT. The last straw that broke the camel's back came when gum stuck on the train door sensors prevented the doors from closing properly. That in turn disrupted train services. Even though such events were not common, the government had zero tolerance towards them.
In 1992, chewing gum was banned.
Since then, anyone bringing in chewing gum will risk being slapped with a fine and/or a jail term. If caught chewing it, offenders may face a fine of US$500-US$1000. Repeat offenders will get a heftier fine plus an assignment of a "Corrective Work Order". This means that the authorities will make the gum chewers sweep the beaches or pick up litters on public pavement.
Yes, it is not funny at all. Gum chewing in Singapore can bring shame to your family. In the official website of 'The Immigration & Checkpoints Authority' (ICA), chewing gum is listed as one of the 'prohibited goods' alongside other items such as 'controlled drugs' and 'obscene articles'.
In 2004, as part of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), the ban was partially lifted. Now, you can get chewing gum but only in pharmacies with a doctor's prescription. This is because the law was relaxed enough only to allow the sale of chewing gum considered to have health benefits. (Smokers, go and get your Nicorette gum from the nearest Pharmacy)
After the ban in 1992, Singaporeans continue to love chewing gum. The only difference is that they would chew in their neighbors' house leaving their own pristine and gum-free.
I believe Singapore is the only place where chewing gum is banned. The ban is found in travel guides as well as in various compilation of 'weird laws'. Since the ban took effect, there has been no lack of criticism on the imposition of such a regulation. Strangely, most of these comments come from outside Singapore. The usually whiny Singaporeans are often preoccupied with other complaints.
I do miss chewing those gum balls a little but I certainly do not miss stepping or sitting on a sticky splat of spent gum.
Didn't they say Singapore is a 'fine' city?
"Where you find the laws most numerous,
there you will find also the greatest injustice."