/ Food & Drink, Health

Should chewing gum be banned?

It’s been 100 years since William J Wrigley started selling his chewing gum in the UK. Now, 725 million packets of Wrigley’s are chewed by Brits every year, but is it time we followed Singapore’s lead and banned it?

Chewing gum – the maintainer of healthy teeth and the patchwork of our streets. You’ll find it stuck under school seats and clinging to our feet, but could we bear to let its sticky mintiness go?

We’ve been chewing on gum for centuries, but it took until 1911 for Wrigley to bring its spearmint chewing gum from the States to the UK. Yet, considering the impact gum has made on the cleanliness of our high streets, is it time to spit it out (into a bin) for good?

A sticky situation

It costs around 3p to manufacturer a piece of gum, but over three times as much (10p) to clean it from our streets. Of course, not everyone is so deliberately careless to toss it on the ground, but this country still spends around £150 million a year to scrub it off.

And just to give you a sense of how much of it is on our pavements – 300,000 pieces of gum are estimated to be stubbornly stuck to London’s Oxford Street at any one time.

So maybe it’s about time for stringent action to be taken? They banned chewing gum in Singapore, and since 1992 the country’s streets have been spotlessly free from sticky splodges ever since.

If we were to follow Singapore’s lead, the biggest hit would be felt by good old Wrigley, as 90% of chewing gum sales in the UK are sold by this one brand alone.

In fact, Wrigley didn’t take Singapore’s ruling lying down – it pushed the matter onto the United States’ government agenda. In 2004, Singapore partially backed down, by allowing sugar-free gum to be sold as a medicinal aid that could only be sold in dentists and pharmacists. The names of those who are “prescribed” this gum are required to be recorded.

By gum, I like to chew

As for me, I’m a prolific chewer. You’ll very rarely find me without a pack of gum. I sometimes chew it to keep focussed, like soldiers during the First World War, but mostly I’ll whip out a stick to chew for the health of my teeth.

After meals, drinks, even snacks – my sugar-free gum helps my nashers stay food free, and it apparently helps strengthen my tooth enamel. In fact, I’m worried that I might be munching on too much of it, due to its supposed “laxative effects”. I shall say no more…

So, could I bear the thought of chewing gum being banned? As much as I’d love for our streets to be spotless like Singapore’s, I’m not sure. Even considering the fact that I’d be able to get a “prescription” from my dentist or pharmacist, I don’t like the thought of being on a “hand-out list”. It would make me sound like an addict who was compelled to attend Chewaholics Anonymous sessions.

However, I do think there needs to be a significant change in attitude from chewers. Why are people throwing their gum on the ground in the first place? Some have bits of paper from the packet to put their used gum into – and if not, I’m sure they could track down a bin. If you want to chew it, bin it.


Authoritarian state of Sp banned chewing gum much earlier than 1992… they don’t like long-haired guys either… subjected to compulsory scissor action on the spot in older days…dunno if they still do it. Acts of anti-social behaviour attract the most stringent of penalties, both civil and criminal,
including caning in more serious cases, and apply equally to foreigners.

Chewing gum was banned in Singapore some 15-20 years ago.
Hereunder is what a contact of mine there said in answer to a
question I put to him.

I don’t recall a single instance of this happening on the
London Tube as to jamming of train doors by chewed gum;
maybe the Tube users are a bit more ‘civilised’ or a better
-behaved lot.

Anything else you know about the chewing gum ban thing?

The rationale for the ban was that vandals were wreaking havoc
to the then newly-built MRT by sticking chewed gum onto the train doors
causing them to jam up and unable to close thereby causing
disruption to train operations. I think gum chewers were a small minority
of the population so there was no major hue and cry. Most people
accepted the government’s justification for banning it as most
were not affected. It was the foreign press that made a big deal out of
this issue.

Phil says:
23 October 2011

High time it was banned. It’s not just the sticky mess everywhere but people who try and talk to you with a mouthful of it.

I would like to see those who throw away chewing gum having to do community service for a week, and getting them to remove chewing gum from our streets would be an appropriate task. 🙂

I can’t remember when I last had chewing gum but the wrapper could be used to store the used gum if there was no bin handy.

I always swallow my chewing gum. It passes through the body at the same rate as other foods and causes no problems. However, some people have this weird idea that it will wrap round parts of the internals of the body and hang around for 7years and that’s why people began spitting it out.

A couple of good reasons not to chew more than one piece at a time.

It’s well known that it is not harmful to swallow chewing gum accidentally, but I have never heard of anyone doing this accidentally. I doubt that many people would follow your example but chewing gum that gradually dissolved with chewing could solve the sticky litter problem.

Oops – I mean that I have never heard of anyone swallowing chewing gum intentionally.

Phil says:
24 October 2011

When I was a child we believed that if you swallowed chewing gum or bubble gum it would find it’s way through your system, block your heart and kill you. Perhaps this old wives tale still lingers in the sub-conscience of most chewers.

Simple answer put a tax on all packets 5p a piece and share it out for councils to use to clean up the mess, means cleaner streets at lower council tax!

It seems a little unfair that people who are responsible have to pay to remedy the problem created by careless people, but at the moment people who don’t even buy gum are paying – through taxes.

Martin says:
24 October 2011

I don’t like the idea of banning anything, but is it beyond the ingenuity of manufacturers to produce a rapidly degradable product? Due to the mess irresponsible users make, give manufacturers a couple of years to find an alternative, then ban the current product!

Martin – I doubt that it is possible to make a product that will degrade fast enough to prevent it sticking to shoes and getting transferred to carpets, which is perhaps the biggest problem. Degradable material might help with the unsightly mess on our streets.

It would be easy to collect samples of freshly deposited gum and submit this for DNA fingerprinting, which has become a very routine procedure. Records are now held for millions of people in the UK and the number is growing. It won’t catch all the culprits but the service could be supported by fines of those who are shown to be guilty.

A bit costly, better to increase the cost of gum.

Why should sensible people pay for the behaviour of slobs? DNA fingerprinting is automated and need not be expensive. Employing people to collect fresh samples of gum and record the location could be the main cost.

You are right, Patrick, but there are a lot of DNA records already and the number is growing. Wikipedia gives a figure of 3.1 million in the UK database at the end of 2005. Even if only one in 15 bits of discarded gum can be matched with a record, it could still be worth doing.

I’m sure you are right – it’s not a simple matter. I would be very happy if everyone was included in the UK DNA database, because it is the only way of ensuring that dangerous criminals are caught. People may whinge that this infringes their civil liberties but could change their tune if they or their family becomes a victim of someone with no criminal record.

Paranoimia says:
25 October 2011

I chew gum, and very, very rarely spit it out on the floor. If there are no bins, I just keep chewing until I get home and dispose of it there. It’s not like it suddenly tastes vile when the flavour is gone.

If there’s any reason I absolutely must get rid of it and there are no bins around, I’ll try and find a public toilet and flush it. Failing that, as a very last resort, I’ll spit it down a drain.

You really can’t blame the manufacturers that so many people are too slovenly to think about where they’re dropping it; that’s as ludicrous as blaming McDonald’s for making kids fat. Littering seems to be a growing problem in general, not just with gum. Many times I’ve walked behind people and seen them drop rubbish on the floor when there’s a bin just feet away.

The attitude seems to be “well, people are paid to pick it up” – well, yes, but if you didn’t drop it in the first place, we wouldn’t need to pay those people and perhaps the money could be spent on something more worthwhile, like keeping the street lights lit.

I can find no information about the problem of discarded gum, or even how to clean it off the carpet, on the Wrigley website. I can’t say I’m surprised.

A worker says:
4 November 2011

Why do we look for ways of clearing up after slobs, when it’s the slobs who are the problem. Not chewing gum or other forms of litter. Attack the slob problem.

Yep… and as to the dog poo problem too.

Years ago I bought a pot of instant noodles made in Taiwan…. container that it
came in was edible too…made from rice or wheat product I believe or a derivative
thereof…surely no rocket science to make something edible AND digestible… don’t
wanna spent chewing gum in my digestive tracts even if expelled.

Patrick …. completely and absolutely sure….I always read carefully the labels
of stuff destined for my cake hole!

Actually fining on the spot would help if the fine was high enough. If they cannot afford the fine then they can do community service and the punishment would have to be cleaning up theirs and others gum mess. I bet it would reduce the problem.

The only problem is that people discard gum when you are not looking.

zilly says:
18 March 2012

btu why oh why do we not just bann chewing gum?

Interesting – Though my local pavements are covered with the stuff (which seems to indicate the gum sticks to the floor not the foot) – My dogs – who never look where they are going – have never ever had a piece of chewing gum stuck to a foot in over 70 years – 50 years of which I walked three large dogs several miles (or Km for the metric obsessive) two or three times a day.