Singapore makes gum legal again, with restrictions


Thu, May 27, 2004 - Page 5

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 Nicorette (nicotine chewing gum to help quit smoking) will now be available as part of a free-trade agreement with the US, but only on strict and tightly-policed conditions. Anyone found trading illicitly will risk two years in jail and a S$5,000 (US$2,940) fine.

Sale is also limited to pharmacists 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 of chewing gum.

Singapore's cautious move has met considerable mockery, with many locals highlighting the fact that visiting prostitutes are less regulated than buying gum. Prostitution is legal in parts of Singapore.

"It's ridiculous that it's easier for 16-year-olds to visit prostitutes than it is to get chewing gum here," said 22-year old college student Fayen Wong.

"Why would I go through the trouble of getting nicotine gum if I can buy a pack of cigarettes without giving my name?" Wong said. "I don't think the new rules will help smokers to quit."

The partial legalization of gum is "really a non-event," said Koh Beng Liang, 25, a research engineer. "Singaporeans will quickly realize it if the so-called loosening up is for foreign image, and not real change."

The Straits Times 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," he said.