The sale of chewing gum has been banned in Singapore since 1992. When the ban was introduced, it was one of the main things that Western journalists focused on when writing about Singapore.
Why is chewing gum banned in Singapore?
According to Lee Kuan Yew’s memoirs, when he was Prime Minister of Singapore in 1983, the then Minister for National Development brought a proposal for the ban of chewing gum to him. The Housing Development Board had reportedly been spending thousands of Singaporean dollars annually to clean up gum that had been left on the stairways, inside keyholes, on lift buttons, on pavements in public areas and even on the seats of public transport. Gum stuck on the seats of public buses were so common that was considered a serious problem. Nevertheless, Prime Minister Lee believed the ban would be too harsh. He believed that the problems that were caused by gum could be easily fixed by educating people and imposing hefty fines against repeat offenders.
In 1987, the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system, the local railway system which reportedly cost $5 billion was launched. This was the largest project ever implemented in the city-state. The politicians were very excited about how this railway system would modernise and revolutionise Singapore. As a result, when people began sticking gum on the door sensors of MRT trains causing the doors not to work properly, many politicians began pushing for the ban of chewing gum. Even though such vandalism was not very common, it was costly because it resulted in long disruptions of train services and it was difficult to catch the culprits.
In 1992, Goh Chok Tong, who had just taken over as Prime Minister introduced the sale of chewing gum ban. The importation of chewing gum was immediately stopped after the announcement of the ban. The supporters of the ban were pleased that there was finally going to be an end to seeing the chewing gum disposed of where it shouldn’t be. The opponents of the ban ignored it and even took the trouble of crossing the border to Johor Bahru, a city in Malaysia, to buy chewing gum. The Singaporean government didn’t prevent people from crossing the border to purchase chewing gum but they imposed heavy fines against those who were found to be re-selling it.
In 2004, after the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement was signed, only the sale of chewing gum with health benefits was exempt from the sale of chewing gum ban. Provided it was sold by a dentist or a pharmacist and these professionals were required by law to keep a record of the names of buyers.
The chewing gum ban is just one of the many laws introduced by the Singaporean government to improve the cleanliness of the city-state. The other laws include a ban against littering, ban against graffiti, ban against spitting and the mandatory flushing of public toilets.
It is reported that when a BBC reporter suggested that such laws would limit people’s creativity, Lee Kuan Yew replied: “If you can’t think because you can’t chew, try a banana.”
So if you are thinking of travelling to Singapore and you find it difficult to think without chewing gum, consider Lee Kuan Yew’s advice.
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Tell us: What do you think about the banning of chewing gum? Do you think it should be banned in South Africa too?