In 1992, citing concerns about public health and cleanliness, Singapore's autocrat Lee Kwan Yew banned the import and sale of chewing gum. Last year, there was some sign that the ban might loosen: From the Taipei Times2003 June 11 edition:
People will soon be allowed to buy long-banned chewing gum -- but only from pharmacies -- the government said yesterday. Pharmacists will be able to sell without prescription gum that aids"dental and oral hygiene," the Trade and Industry Ministry said in a statement released. The government will allow the sale of Orbit and Orbit White, both made by Chicago-based Wrigley, the world's largest gum maker, the Trade and Industry Ministry said in a statement.Well, those reports were premature. After almost a year, Taipei Times reports that :
if you want some you will have to register as a gum user and show an identity card every time you buy a packet. ... 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. ... 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.Both articles cite recent free-trade agreements, and intense lobbying by gum manufacturers (and their paid-in-full legislators). This seems like a small thing, and it is. And yet it isn't, of course. Most of the reporting in this country is"news of the weird" (as Singaporean news so often is in this country, unless they're caning one of our citizens). Singapore is a small urban society with high levels of education, a dynamic economy and a high standard of living. It is also a libertarians' nightmare, a society in which public space and behavior is highly regulated, information is controlled and enforcement is harsh.
Singapore effectively maintains their ban on a major US discretionary commodity, giving enough to satisfy the legal requirements without actually sacrificing their standards. To add insult to injury, Nicorette is likely to be a long time building market share in Asia, as Singapore is pretty much the only Asian nation in which smoking is considered odd or unsightly or unhealthy. This is a small thing, and yet I can't shake the sense that it isn't, and I'm not sure why.
Perhaps because so little news from Singapore arrives here, though it is a society of 4.5 million people with an average life expectancy of over 80 years, a per capita GDP over $24K. Perhaps because, as a particularly authoritarian state, any sign of change, particularly liberalization, is noteworthy. Perhaps because it is interesting that gum is illegal and prostitution is legal. I'm not sure exactly.