Thursday, March 4, 2010

After Chewing On It, Singapore Decides To Keep Gum Ban

Singapore said it will maintain a ban on chewing gum sales, a policy that has helped shape the city-state's international image as a tightly controlled, squeaky-clean island.

The ban, first imposed in 1992, is necessary to reduce gum-related litter and vandalism, Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman, parliamentary secretary of the national development ministry, told lawmakers Thursday.

"We remain concerned that lifting the ban could result in chewing gum litter resurfacing as a problem," Mohamad said. "The government stands by its decision to ban chewing gum as the rationale is based on maintaining a clean and comfortable living environment."

Singapore has sought in recent years to cultivate a more cosmopolitan, more hip image in a bid to attract foreign investment and tourists. The nation of 5 million residents opened its first casino last month and began hosting Formula One races in 2008.

But the country maintains strict laws against public demonstrations and speech about religion and race. Punishment for minor crimes such as vandalism can include canings, and drug smugglers are often hanged.

Denise Phua Lay Peng, a member of parliament from the ruling People's Action Party, called on the government to allow citizens more freedom.

"Let Singaporeans be accountable for the consequences, and not let our behavior be shaped by so many sticks," Phua said. "If Singaporeans were seeking liberty in so many areas and the government does concede in some of these areas, why not liberalize the chewing gum ban?"

Phua also expressed frustration that Singapore is so well-known internationally for banning gum. A clean city is more important than the freedom to chew gum, Mohamad said, adding that before the ban gobs of gum had stopped subway doors from closing, creating delays.

"Our efforts at creating a clean, green and safe living environment have garnered much more international acclaim than criticisms of the ban of chewing gum," he said.

The ban was modified in 2004 to allow sales of gum that have medicinal value.

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