The notably clean and well-kept public spaces in the country of Singapore are likely to make quite an impression on visitors. The same can be said for the items in Singapore law that enforce and ensure the spic and span public spaces. One such law is the well-publicized ban on chewing gum, which was implemented in Singapore in 1992.
The ban on chewing gum in Singapore was implemented by the new Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong, in January of 1992. Previously, the issue of banning chewing gum in Singapore had been a point of discussion among other important leaders of the country. In particular, Lee Kuan Yew, considered the country’s founding father, had vocalized his concerns about the fouling effects that chewing gum in Singapore seemed to be having on the streets, buildings, buses, subways, and other public spaces.
Chewing gum was being left of on sidewalks, and other public areas, rather than being properly disposed of in designated garbage receptacles. This was costing the government large amounts of money to remove and clean, as well as causing damage to the cleaning equipment itself, which then cost more money to replace. Vandals were reportedly leaving used chewing gum in keyholes, on elevator buttons, and in mail boxes, causing a number of challenges in maintaining the order and cleanliness in Singapore.
In addition to this cost, the improper disposal of chewing gum in Singapore was threatening the function and efficiency of the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT). The MRT is a system of trains that, at the time, was the largest and most expensive public project executed in Singapore. Vandals were leaving the chewing gum in the doors of the MRT trains, preventing the doors from properly closing. This not only interrupted the service of the MRT trains, but was extremely costly to repair.
So, in January of 1992, Singaporean law adopted a new ban on chewing gum. The ban on chewing gum in Singapore outlawed import, sale, and manufacture of chewing gum. The ban on the import and manufacture of gum was enforced immediately, and a short grace period was allowed for merchants to sell their remaining supplies, and for the public to chew whatever gum they had left.
When the ban on chewing gum in Singapore was first implemented, opportunistic smugglers began to bring in chewing gum from neighboring Malaysia and Johur Bahru. Smugglers and other delinquents who defied the ban, when caught, were publicly shamed by the government. Illegal import of chewing gum even applies to bringing a few pieces into the country for personal use, a fact which demonstrates the serious nature of the ban on chewing gum in Singapore.
In terms of Singaporean law, the ban on chewing gum in Singapore can be considered an extension of the littering law. Therefore, the act of chewing gum in Singapore is associated with similar penalties to those imposed for littering. The littering law requires a fine of $500 to $1,000 US Dollars (USD) for first time offenders. Repeat offenders may be fined up to $2,000 USD and assigned a Corrective Work Order (CWO).
When serving a CWO for violating littering laws, offenders are made to clean public spaces, often while wearing a bright colored jacket. The media may also be invited to cover the event, increasing the severity of the penalty though additional public shame. The CWO as a penalty for chewing gum in Singapore was reportedly implemented in November of 1992.
In March of 2004, following the United States – Singapore Free Trade Agreement (USSFTA), Singaporean laws banning chewing gum were revised. The ban was lifted, only partially, to allow the sale of chewing gum considered to have health benefits. This includes products such as dental-health gum, and nicotine gum to assist people who want to quit smoking.
These chewing gums can only be sold in pharmacies, and consumers must provide name and ID. Pharmacists who sell the gum without collecting the required information can be fined up to $2,940 USD and jailed for two years. The penalties for violating restrictions on chewing gum in Singapore, such as fines, Corrective Work Orders, and jail time, are often considered severe by outsiders. Similar fineable activities include spitting in public and not flushing public toilets.