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Chewing gum ban in Singapore

There is a ban on importing chewing gum into Singapore which is strictly enforced. Since 2004, only chewing gum of therapeutic value is allowed into Singapore under the "Regulation of Imports and Exports (Chewing Gum) Regulations." Gum can be bought from a doctor, but must be prescribed.

According to the Regulations, "importing" means to "bring or cause to be brought into Singapore by land, water or air from any place which is outside Singapore ..." any goods, even if they are not for purposes of trade.[1][original research?]

Under the rule, no gum is allowed to be bought or sold inside Singapore and there is a $500 fine for spitting out gum on the streets.[citation needed]


In his memoirs,[2] Lee Kuan Yew recounted that as early as 1983, when he was still serving as Prime Minister, a proposal for the ban was brought up to him by the then Minister for National Development. Chewing gum was causing serious maintenance problems in high-rise public housing flats, with vandals disposing of spent gum in mailboxes, inside keyholes and even 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" and did not take action.

In 1987, the S$5 billion local railway system, the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), started running. It was then the largest public project ever implemented in Singapore, and expectations were high. One of the champions of the project, Ong Teng Cheong, who later became the first democratically-elected President, declared,"… the MRT will usher in a new phase in Singapore's development and bring about a better life for all of us."

It was then 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 alcohol and tobacco.[citation needed]

Immediate results of ban

After the ban was announced, the import of chewing gum was immediately halted. After a transition period allow 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 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 for the risk of gum littering again.

International attention

In the mid 1990s, Singapore's laws began to receive international press coverage. For example, the U.S. media paid great attention to the case of Michael P. Fay, an American teenager sentenced in 1994 to caning in Singapore for vandalism (for 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 has led to worldwide propagation of the myth that the use or importation of chewing gum is itself punishable with caning. In fact, this has never been a caning offence, and the only penalties provided under Chapter 57 are fines.

When a BBC reporter suggested that such draconian laws would stifle the people's creativity, Lee Kuan Yew retorted: "If you can't think because you can't chew, try a banana."[3]

Revision of the Act

File:SingaporeUS FreeTrade.jpg
U.S. President George W. Bush and Singapore Prime Minister Chok Tong Goh sign a free trade agreement in the White House, 6 May 2003. White House photo by Tina Hager.

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).[4] The talks later continued under the new administration of President George W. Bush. Details of the closed-door negotiations are unknown, but it became apparent that by the final phase of the negotiation 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.[5] 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.

Soon, 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.

Other substances


  1. Phua, Ree Kee (2005). "Reply to enquiry on Chewing Gum." E-mail to Wei Zhong Goh.
  2. Lee Kuan Yew (2000). From Third World to First: The Singapore Story. ISBN 0-06-019776-5
  3. "Singapore's elder statesman". BBC News. 5 July 2000. Retrieved 28 April 2010. 
  4. Bill Clinton (2004). My Life. Knopf. ISBN 0-375-41457-6.
  5. Prystay, Cris (4 June 2004). "At long last, gum is legal in Singapore, but there are strings". The Wall Street Journal (New York). 
  1. Ho Khai Leong (2003) Shared Responsibilities, Unshared Power: The Politics of Policy-Making in Singapore, ISBN 981-210-218-3.