Singapore Never Banned Chewing Gum: Here Are 10 Facts Everyone Should Know

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Is it illegal to eat chewing gum in Singapore?

Young Reader: You’re supposed to chew it, not eat it. And what’s a chewing gu-

For years, we’ve been led to believe that the consumption of chewing gum is banned here in Singapore. Some even think that the penalty for chewing gum here in Singapore is caning.

In fact, do a Google search and you’d realise that some even link the death penalty with chewing gum in Singapore.

After all, we’ve been constantly exposed to the seeming lack of gum here, either owing to our own visual experiences, word of mouth or even just urban legends.

So it’s little wonder why we’ll be a tad bit hesitant when dabbling with the sticky, pink substance.

But here’s the thing; is the consumption of chewing gum really illegal here?

And how did it even become a ‘banned’ substance in the first place?

Without further ado, let’s go through a heartfelt, close-up journey of how the “ban” on chewing gum in Singapore came to be, with none other than our prestigious, delectable and most importantly, wholesome ’10 Facts Series’.

As our boss once promised: “Enlightenment may be a tough stretch, but our ’10 Facts’ series will get you somewhere near there”.

If you prefer to watch a video about this instead, here’s a video we’ve done on this topic. Watch till the end for a surprise!

Singapore Never Banned Chewing Gum: Here Are 10 Facts Everyone Should Know

What is the Chewing Gum Sales Ban

First and foremost, it should be stated that there’s no actual ban on the consumption of chewing gum in Singapore.

Instead, there’s a ban on the importation of chewing gum.

So technically speaking, it would be a crime to import and sell chewing gum here. But to chew it?

Well not quite.


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How Did The Chewing Gum Sales Ban Come Into Place?

To learn how, we’ll first have to take a walk down Memory Lane.

Back in the early 1980s, chewing gum was pretty prevalent.

And as one may have expected, it caused a whole host of problems.

Apparently, people were disposing of their used chewing gum everywhere, ranging from lifts to cinemas to even doors.

It was such a nasty problem that in 1983, Foreign Affairs and Culture Minister S. Dhanabalan had to bring up the issue.

Hard not to, actually, considering how HDB was spending a rough $150K a year on the removal of chewing gum alone.

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That translates to $261K in today’s dollars.

Pre-Emptive Notions for Chewing Gum Ban

With all the slights in mind, it was only a matter of time before local government authorities intervened.

SBC (now MediaCorp), for one, was forbidden to show advertisements on chewing gum.


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School tuckshops were also disallowed from retailing chewing gums, much to the chagrin of our uniformed parents and grandparents I’m sure.

And The Straits Times would go on to publish an ominous-sounding article, where it contemplates a possible ban on the sale of chewing gum.

Chewing Gum Sales Ban Kicked In In 1992

And in 1992, that notion came to pass.

Apparently, the ban took effect on 3 January 1992, with the revelation announced to the public on 30 December 1991.

At this point, you may wonder about the stimulus that forced government authorities to finally take concrete action. After all, even huge removal costs and constant littering have only prompted deterrent measures.


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What on earth could have triggered the government so badly that they had to put a theoretical ‘end’ to things?

Well, it seems that the Mass Rapid Transport (MRT) system may have to do with it.

So here’s a quick recap; the very first MRT line, the North-South line aka the red line, actually opened its doors to the public on 7 November 1987, with its green line counterpart commencing operations on 12 December 1987.

Though these meant greater convenience for Singaporeans, they also foreshadowed potential problems:

Such as the already prevalent act of pasting used chewing gum anywhere.


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In July 1991 and August 1991, chewing gums 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.

Relevant authorities would later issue a statement, saying that the ban was “primarily because chewing gum litter had disrupted the smooth running of the mass rapid transit (MRT) trains.”

The Exact Chewing Gum Law in Singapore

The ban falls under REGULATION OF IMPORTS AND EXPORTS ACT (CHAPTER 272A, SECTION 3), also known as the REGULATION OF IMPORTS AND EXPORTS (CHEWING GUM) REGULATIONS.

As the exact sentence goes: “the importation into Singapore of any chewing gum is prohibited”.

Individuals who flout the law and sell chewing gum here will receive a fine not exceeding $100,000 or an imprisonment term not exceeding 2 years or both.


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Repeat offenders will receive a fine not exceeding $200,000 or an imprisonment term not exceeding 3 years or both.

Reactions to the Chewing Gum Sales Ban

Suffice to say; individuals weren’t exactly happy with the news.

Some, for instance, thought that it’s too extreme a measure and suggested intensive public education efforts instead.

Others proposed heavier fines for people who didn’t dispose of their used chewing gum properly.

And needless to say; sellers weren’t happy.


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They were left with overwhelming stocks, and selling or exporting them overseas would lead to a massive loss due to the strong Singapore currency and high import duties.

Two weeks after the ban, over 2,000 notices were given to store owners to stop
them from displaying chewing gums. Over five million packs of chewing gums
were confiscated with a market value of S$900,000.

And in the first two weeks alone, five stall owners were charged

However, there were also those who supported the ban.

The Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE), for instance, expressed full support for the ban on the grounds that it would improve cleanliness. According to them, it also upheld the rights of the majority, who were non-consumers of chewing gum, over the rights of the minority who chewed gum.


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Changes to the Chewing Gum Sales Ban in 2004

And just like that, the ban on the sale of chewing gum persisted until 2004, when slight “rectifications” were made.

Incredibly, the importation and sale of certain chewing gums have become legal.
So as mentioned, back in 1992, the importation of “chewing gum, bubble gum or dental
chewing gum, or any like substance prepared from a gum base of vegetable or
synthetic origin and intended for chewing” was banned.

But, in 2004, an exception was made for “chewing gum for health-related purposes”.

During that time, 19 gum products were allowed for sale.

These gums aren’t meant to be consumed for pleasure, but mainly for health
reasons. Like nicotine gums to help smokers to quit smoking, or gums that help prevent
cavities.


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However, you can only buy them from pharmacies. You also need to register to buy
them.

And needless to say, they’re tasteless so unless you like to look cool, chewing them isn’t exactly a pleasure.

Not Exactly A Move Made For The Greater Good

Just to clear up things, the slight relaxation of the law in 2004 wasn’t exactly made in view of the greater good.

Rather, it came about as a result of something a little… unrelated.

In 1999, Singapore and the US went into a super long talk for a free trade agreement.


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Simply put, it was a trade between two countries without much taxes.

The agreement involved a lot of things, but for some reason, Wrigley was
interested in the talks.

Apparently, the company was keen to sell their gums in Singapore.

In the US, getting an act passed isn’t easy, so after intense lobbying by Wrigley, the
agreement included the sale of gums with therapeutic value.

Yes, this Wrigley:


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Image: gmstockstudio / Shutterstock.com

Why, Then, Are Singaporeans Seemingly Unaware Of The Exact Nature Of The Ban?

At long last, we reach the core subject of the matter:

If the importation and sale aspects are the ones that have been banned, why are so many individuals under the impression that consumption is banned as well?

Well, this could be attributed to simple misconceptions, as well as possible misrepresentations on the part of foreign media outlets.

Renowned news organisation BBC once, for example, published an article on Singapore’s chewing gum ban that could best be described as a tad bit ambiguous.


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Its headline? Why Singapore banned chewing gum.

To unsuspecting readers, they may be led to believe that the consumption itself is illegal, as compared to its actual law counterpart.

But for the first time, Wikipedia might be more accurate than mainstream media because when you Google “chewing gum ban Singapore”, you’d get this result:

Image: Google search screenshot

Chewing gum sales ban in Singapore.

Though of course, it can be argued that Singapore had not exactly made an effort to clear things up.

But then again, they’re probably justified for not doing so.

The All-Important Question Remains: Can You Chew Gum in Singapore?

Is the consumption of chewing gum illegal here in Singapore?

Will John Wick turn up to drill that nail in your coffin if you’re caught with something in your mouth?

The straightforward answer is no.

However, importing and selling chewing gum, save for certain types that have since been approved, remain illegal.

So now that you’re a Masterclass-certified expert on the art of chewing gum, you’re free to explore Singapore as it is now.

Just don’t go sticking stuff around town, or we’ll just land back in square one.

Featured Image: Ahmad Fairuzazli / Shutterstock.com + Jarrett Homan / Shutterstock.com

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