Chewing gum sales ban in Singapore
The chewing gum sales ban in Singapore has been in place since 1992. Since 2004, an exception has existed for therapeutic, dental, nicotine chewing gum, which can be bought from a doctor or registered pharmacist. It is currently not illegal to chew gum in Singapore, merely to import it and sell it, apart from the aforementioned exceptions.
Lee Kuan Yew
In his memoirs, Lee Kuan Yew said that in 1983, when he was Prime Minister of Singapore, a proposal for the ban was brought to him by Teh Cheang Wan, then Minister for National Development. Chewing gum was causing maintenance problems in high-rise public-housing apartments, with vandals disposing of spent gum in mailboxes, inside keyholes, and on lift buttons. Chewing gum left on the ground, stairways, and pavements in public areas increased the cost of cleaning and damaged cleaning equipment. Gum stuck on the seats of public buses was also considered a problem. However, Lee thought that a ban would be "too drastic".
Mass rapid transport and implementation
In 1987, the $5 billion local railway system, the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), started running. It was then the largest public project ever implemented in Singapore.
It was reported that vandals had begun sticking chewing gum on the door sensors of MRT trains, preventing doors from functioning properly and causing disruption to train services. Such incidents were rare but costly and culprits were difficult to apprehend. In January 1992, Goh Chok Tong, who had just taken over as Prime Minister, decided on a ban. The restriction on the distribution of chewing gum was enacted in Singapore Statute Chapter 57, the Control of Manufacture Act, which also governs the restriction of certain alcohol and tobacco products.
After the ban was announced, the importation of chewing gum was immediately halted. After a transition period allowing shops to clear existing stock, the sale of chewing gum was completely banned.
When first introduced, the ban caused much controversy and some open defiance. Some people took the trouble of travelling to neighbouring Johor Bahru, Malaysia, to purchase chewing gum. Offenders were publicly "named and shamed" by the government, to serve as a deterrent to other would-be smugglers. No black market for chewing gum in Singapore ever emerged, though some Singaporeans occasionally still manage to smuggle some chewing gum from Johor Bahru for their own consumption. The ban has been partially lifted, as some types of gum are allowable, such as gum chewed for dental health. However, the government refuses to completely lift the ban due to the risk of gum littering again.
In the mid 1990s, Singapore's laws began to receive international press coverage. US media paid great attention to the case of Michael P. Fay, an American teenager sentenced in 1994 to caning in Singapore for vandalism (using spray paint, not chewing gum). They also drew attention to some of Singapore's other laws, including the "mandatory flushing of public toilets" rule. Confused reporting about these issues led to the myth that the use or importation of chewing gum is itself punishable with caning. In fact, the only penalties provided under Chapter 57 are fines and imprisonment.
In 1999, United States President Bill Clinton and Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong agreed to initiate talks between the two countries for a bilateral free trade agreement (USS-FTA). The talks later continued under the new administration of President George W. Bush. By the final phase of negotiations in early 2003, there remained two unresolved issues: the War in Iraq and chewing gum.
The Chicago-based Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company enlisted the help of a Washington, D.C lobbyist and of Illinois Congressman Phil Crane, then-chairman of the United States House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade, to get chewing gum on the agenda of the United States-Singapore Free Trade Agreement. This caused a dilemma for the Singapore Government. It recognised the health benefits of certain gums, such as a brand of sugar-free gum that contains calcium lactate to strengthen tooth enamel. Sale of this newly categorised medicinal gum was allowed, provided it was sold by a dentist or pharmacist, who must take down the names of buyers.
In May 2003, the USS-FTA was signed and the ban was revised. "They were tough," Crane said of the talks. Some found it surprising that Wrigley had fought hard on this battle, given the small size of Singapore's chewing market. But the company said it was worth it. "There's many examples in our history of things that may have not made short-term financial sense but was the right thing to do in a philosophical or long-term sense," said Christopher Perille, Wrigley's senior director of corporate communications.
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