Chewing gum ban

Singapore Infopedia


A ban on the sale, import and manufacture of chewing gum in Singapore took effect on 3 January 1992, four days after the ban was announced in The Straits Times.1 The ban encompassed all substances made from the “gum base of vegetable or synthetic origin”, such as “bubble gum or dental chewing gum”. Once the ban was in force, anyone entering Singapore were required  to declare any  chewing gum in their possession at immigration checkpoints.2

Reasons for the ban
On 30 December 1991, the Environment Ministry (ENV) released a statement explaining that the ban was to be imposed primarily because chewing gum litter had disrupted the smooth running of the mass rapid transit (MRT) trains. In July and August 1991, gum stuck between MRT train doors caused the trains to stop as the doors could not close fully. These two incidents led to train disruptions with passengers having to disembark before the train could move again.3 The careless disposal of used chewing gum was also creating cleaning problems in public areas such as cinemas and housing estates.4

The problems created by chewing gum litter had been identified as early as 1983 and brought up by then Foreign Affairs and Culture Minister S. Dhanabalan.5 In that year, it was reported that the Housing and Development Board (HDB) allocated S$150,000 annually to clean up the mess created by chewing gum litter.6

To deal with the problems caused by chewing gum, the government had instructed the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (now known as MediaCorp) to stop running advertisements that promoted chewing gum. By that time, school tuckshops had already been told to stop selling chewing gum.7 Although a ban on chewing gum was considered at that time, no action was taken until 1992 when the train disruptions from chewing gum litter occurred.

Penalties for violating the ban
The penalties for violating the ban were a fine of up to S$2,000 to be imposed on those convicted of selling chewing gum while anyone convicted of importing chewing gum would be fined up to S$10,000 and or jailed up to one year if it was a first-time offence. For the second and subsequent convictions, they could be fined up to S$20,000 and or jailed for up to two years.8

Two weeks after the ban, ENV officers had issued more than 2,000 notices to store owners to stop their display of chewing gum.9 Within those two weeks, the ENV had also confiscated more than five million packets of chewing gum, worth a market value of S$900,000. The ministry also issued summons on five provision shops for selling chewing gum despite warnings to stop doing so.10

Divided public reaction
Public reaction to the chewing gum ban was divided. The Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) expressed full support for the ban on grounds that it would improve cleanliness and that it upheld the rights of the majority who were non-consumers of chewing gum over the rights of the minority who chewed gum.11 Other supporters of the ban gave similar reasons.

Critics of the ban felt that it was too extreme a measure and suggested that more intensive public education efforts should be made instead, along with the imposition of heavier fines for those who did not dispose of their chewing gum appropriately.12 Some critics viewed it as an infringement on the rights and freedom of Singaporeans.13

Impact of the ban
Store owners disliked the ban because they were left with stocks of chewing gum which they could not sell or export overseas because of the strong Singapore currency and high import duties at that time.14 However, the ban had the desired effect of decreasing significantly the amount of chewing gum littering cases. It went down from 525 cases per day prior to the 1992 ban to two cases per day in February 1993.15

Town councils reported a drastic reduction in chewing gum littering on pavements, lift floors and public benches. Chewing gum litter also did not jam lift doors.16 Bedok Town Council also reported savings in cleaning costs while City Centre Town Council saved by dropping the idea of buying a high-pressure water jet to clean off chewing gum stains.17

Dental chewing gum allowed
The total ban of chewing gum was lifted partially in March 2004.18 The United States government had made the sale of dental chewing gums one of the issues during negotiations for a free trade agreement between Singapore and the United States.19 

Sharon Teng & Timothy Pwee

1. Dominic Nathan, “Chewing Gum to Be Banned,” Straits Times, 31 December 1991, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Nathan, “Chewing Gum to Be Banned.”
3. Nathan “Chewing Gum to Be Banned.”
4. Nathan “Chewing Gum to Be Banned.”
5. Paul Jacob, “Chewing Gum May Be Banned,” Straits Times, 21 November 1983, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Jacob, “Chewing Gum May Be Banned.” 
7. Jacob, “Chewing Gum May Be Banned,” 
8. Nathan, “Chewing Gum to Be Banned.”
9. “Ministry Acts against 5 Stores for Selling Gum,” Straits Times, 17 January 1992, 27. (From NewspaperSG)
10. “Ministry Acts against 5 Stores.”
11. “Case Backs Ban on Chewing Gum for Good of the Environment,” Straits Times, 11 January 1992, 25. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Yap Kwok Kee, “Better to Educate Public Than Deprive Young of Simple Pleasure,” Straits Times, 6 January 1992, 28. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “Case Backs Ban on Chewing Gum.”
14. “Ministry Acts against 5 Stores.”
15. Dominic Nathan, “Few Chewing Gum Litter Cases Now, Thanks to Ban,” Straits Times, 18 March 1993, 18. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Nathan, “Few Chewing Gum Litter Cases Now.”
17. Nathan, “Few Chewing Gum Litter Cases Now.”
18. “12-Year Chewing Gum Ban Partially Lifted,” Today, 17 March 2004, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
19. “US-S'pore FTA No Longer Stuck on Gum,” Straits Times, 10 July 2003, 3. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as of 3 April 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


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