Friday, 1 May 2015

01/05/15 - Gum, etc

Saying this might make me sound like an old fart, but I really hate chewing gum. I hate the way it makes the chewer look like a thug – or, worse still, a football manager - and I hate the way no-one knows how to dispose of it properly, so every pavement and platform up and down the country is peppered with ugly little circles of discarded goo.
I used to work on Oxford Street, and every morning I’d see a council worker operating a machine to remove gum from the pavement. I worked there for a year, and every single day he was steaming the same few feet of pavement. What an utterly thankless task.

It’s not just me who feels this way either. So does the whole of Singapore. ‘Regulation of Imports and Exports (Chewing Gum) Regulations’ may sound like a made-up thing, but it’s genuine legislation that exists in Singapore. You are technically allowed to chew gum for therapeutic or dental purposes over there – as long as it’s prescribed by a doctor – but in the main, chewing gum is illegal. No gum can be bought or sold anywhere in the country, and there’s a $500 dollar fine for being caught spitting out gum in the street. It sounds brilliant.

The seeds of the idea were planted back in 1983 by Lee Kuan Yew, the Prime Minister at the time, who was fiercely aware of the spiralling costs of public gum removal along with gum-based vandalism in shared buildings (shoved into keyholes and lift buttons in blocks of flats and what-have-you), although a total ban was considered too drastic at the time and wasn’t followed through. However, the launch in 1987 of the $5bn Mass Rapid Transit rail network became a catalyst for change, as people pretty much immediately started sticking gum on the automatic door sensors and thus fouling up the whole network. Having invested so much money, the authorities were annoyed that it could all be stymied by such a simple act of mischief, so in 1992 the new Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong called for a total ban on the distribution of chewing gum.
Imports were halted, and retailers were gifted a short transition period to clear their stocks before the sale was completely outlawed. Hardcore chewing enthusiasts were forced across the border to Malaysia to procure their sticky hits, but clandestine importers were winkled out to be named and shamed by the government in order to discourage a chewing gum black market. It worked too, such a thing doesn’t exist. People just don’t chew gum in Singapore.

Wrigley’s aren’t happy about it, of course, but who cares? Singapore doesn’t have pavements that look like they’ve got grey measles. I bet those annoyed spearmint fans wish they’d put their gum in the bloody bin now, eh?

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