Singapore starts chewing gum

The Guardian

Singapore, May 26:

The good news for Singapore’s secret army of clandestine chewers: gum is going on sale legally for the first time in 12 years. The bad news: if you want some you will have to register as a gum user and show an identity card every time you buy a packet. The arch-symbol of the American way of life was outlawed by Singapore’s senior minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1992. He took the unique measure - dreamed of in vain by public cleaning departments throughout the rest of the world — in outrage at the splats of used gum dotting the country’s otherwise pristine streets.

Nineteen ‘medicinal’ brands of gum such as Nicorettes [nicoteine chewing gum to help quit smoking] will now be available as part of a free trade agreement with America, but only on strict and tightly-policed conditions. Any-one found trading illicitly will risk two years in jail and a 1,650 Pounds Sterling fine. Sale is also limited to chemists with some brands at prices designed to deter non-medicinal use.

The relaxation will be welcomed by the US and American visitors to Singapore, who take pride in the global success — and remarkable history - of chewing gum. The jaw-exercising goo is so honoured in the US that the role of the Mexican general Santa Anna, conqueror of Davy Crockett at the Alamo and national enemy number one in his day, is acknowledged. He introduced the gum’s inventor Thomas Adams to its main ingredient, Mexican chicle root, in 1860.

Singapore’s cautious move has met considerable mockery, with many locals highlighting the fact that visiting prostitutes are less regulated than buying gum. The local Straits Times newspaper, widely regarded as a government mouthpiece, gave the only brief report of the new rules which focused on cleaning companies’ intense dislike of gum splats. “Gum is gum, whether it’s for smokers or not,” Colim Lim, managing director of Tapisteam Cleaning Services told the paper. “Coffee and other stains are bad enough. Having to remove gum stuck on carpet and floors is an awful task.”