Singapore Banned Chewing Gum Because of the MRT

Chewing Gum Ban in Singapore

Singapore is known for its cleanliness and the uncommon laws that govern the city, including the controversial “Chewing Gum Ban”, enacted in January 1992.

However, did you know that the ban to import and distribute chewing gum was caused by the opening of the MRT system?


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Vandalism in Housing Estates

A Kawasaki-CSR Sifang C151B train passing by HDB Housing Estates in the background. (Photo: SGTrains)

A Kawasaki-CSR Sifang C151B train passing by HDB Housing Estates in the background. (Photo: SGTrains)

With vandals disposing of spent gum in mailboxes, inside keyholes, as well as on lift buttons, chewing gum was causing a slew of maintenance problems in public-housing apartments.

The chewing gums left on the ground, stairways and pavements in public areas increased the cost of cleaning and even also damaging cleaning equipment.

A vandal repeatedly vandalised lift buttons for two weeks in a Toa Payoh estate in April 1977, and it was very serious to a point where a lift mechanic “planted” himself on top of the lift cab to catch the vandal.

However, a ban was not introduced back in 1983 as it was deemed “too drastic”, as quoted by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.


Chewing Gum Incidents in the MRT System

SMRT STARiS Information System on board MRT trains indicating 'Doors are Closing'. (Photo: SGTrains)

SMRT STARiS Information System on board MRT trains indicating ‘Doors are Closing’. (Photo: SGTrains)

The MRT system started running in 1987, becoming Singapore’s largest public project ever implemented at that time.

It was reported that vandals had begun sticking chewing gum on the doors of MRT trains, which prevented the doors from functioning properly and caused train service disruptions. Although such incidents were uncommon, they were very costly to rectify and the culprits were difficult to apprehend.

In July and August 1991, gum stuck between MRT train doors caused it to not close fully, leading to service disruptions where passengers have to board the next train as the affected trains have to be withdrawn from service.


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The Inevitable Chewing Gum Ban In Singapore

ESM Goh Chok Tong at the National Day Parade 2018 (Photo: MParader/Facebook)

ESM Goh Chok Tong at the National Day Parade 2018 (Photo: MParader/Facebook)

On January 3, 1992, then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong decided on the ban to import and distribute chewing gum in Singapore.

This was enacted in Chapter 57 of the Singapore Statutes, the Control of Manufacture Act.


How Do the MRT Train Doors Work?

A Kawasaki Heavy Industries C151 (KHI) MRT train door closing. (Photo: SGTrains)

A Kawasaki Heavy Industries C151 (KHI) MRT train door closing. (Photo: SGTrains)

Back then, the first-generation Kawasaki Heavy Industries C151 (KHI) trains that were running did not have a system to detect the exact door that has an obtrusion. Trains simply detect through their on board interlocking system, checking if all doors are completely closed or not.

This meant that a longer time was needed for the staff to identify the exact train door and to rectify/isolate the fault, before allowing the train to leave the station. The resultant being in significant delays and service disruptions due to chewing gums stuck on the train doors by vandals.

Newer trains are built with an on board monitoring system that can detect the exact train door of which an obtrusion has occurred. This allows the faulty door to be rectified quickly and thus allowing train service to resume as soon as possible.


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Into The Vault 2: Chewing On The Past

Into The Vault 2 | Ep 5: Chewing On The Past. (Thumbnail: Channel NewsAsia)

Into The Vault 2 | Ep 5: Chewing On The Past. (Thumbnail: Channel NewsAsia)

You can watch a documentary by Channel NewsAsia on the Chewing Gum Ban in Singapore.

Local Artist Chris Chew takes a trip back in time to when chewing gum was still available – uncovering all that was good, bad, and chewy.

Click to watch the ‘Into The Vault 2: Chewing On The Past’ documentary »


Check Out More Related Posts

I Dropped Something Onto The MRT Tracks! – What To Do If This Happens To You?

How did a safe MRT system indirectly cause delays?


Related Links
Kawasaki Heavy Industries C151 – SGTrains
During a train disruption – SGTrains

External Links
Why Singapore banned chewing gum – BBC [Accessed 26 Jul 2021]
Chewing gum ban – NLB Infopedia [Accessed 26 Jul 2021]
Control of Manufacture Act | Chapter 57 – Singapore Statutes Online [Accessed 26 Jul 2021]
Into The Vault 2 | Ep 5: Chewing On The Past – Channel NewsAsia [Accessed 26 Jul 2021]

Images adapted from Ryan McGuire/Pixabay, MParader/Facebook and Channel NewsAsia


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Matthew Ng

An avid train enthusiast since 2009, he designs graphics and infographics to promote the little known facts about Singapore's train network.