Singapore is no stranger to quirky laws such as its ban on chewing gums. In fact, the city-state has drawn quite a fair amount of attention internationally for the regulations that help keep it the clean, green and safe city-in-a-garden that it is well-known for. Curious to know why these laws were put in place? Here are some interesting facts on how some of these laws came about.
A gum-believable ban
In the late 1980s, the cost of cleaning gum amounted to almost S$150,000 annually.
Introduced in 1992, there are many misconceptions around this law. Under Chapter 272A, Section 3 of the Regulation of Imports and Exports Act, it is the importing and sale of chewing gum that are banned, not the consumption of chewing gum. An exception is dental or nicotine gum that is legally imported and sold by doctors or at pharmacies.
Also, as a tourist, you’re allowed to bring in up to two packets of gum – that means you’re free to work out your jaw anytime, anywhere!
The reason why the ban was put in place can be traced back to the late 1980s and early 1990s. When Singapore’s train public transport system — the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) — was first launched in 1988, it faced frequent attacks from vandals. Their weapon of choice? Chewing gum.
It was used to block door sensors, which caused malfunctions and disruption in services. Together with the high costs of cleaning chewing gum-caused litter island wide, the law was proposed and eventually enacted.
Just how successful was the law in achieving its purpose? The average number of chewing gum-related vandalism dropped from 525 to an average of two cases per day, within a year.
Spitting spreads germs—don’t do it in public
In today’s era, spitting is a cultural no-no in Singapore.
Section 15(3) of the Environmental Public Health (Public Cleansing) Regulations bans the act of spitting in public areas.
In the 1970s, tuberculosis was one of the most infectious diseases worldwide and there was a common belief that spitting exacerbated the spread of the disease. In addition, Chinese immigrants had a persistent spitting habit as they had a superstition that keeping phlegm in the throat was unhealthy and that spitting it out would ward off bad luck.
To curb the spread of tuberculosis, the law was put in place and enforced strictly as an act of deterrence. Some 30 years on during the early 2000s, a campaign against spitting was resurrected when there was a Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in Singapore which was primarily spread by respiratory droplets from the nose and mouth.
Alcohol served on the brakes
Drinking at licensed premises such as pubs, restaurants and coffee shops during the restricted timing is still permitted.
Almost every country has restrictions on drinking, especially in regard to the minimum drinking age. However, Singapore takes this to the next level by placing restrictions on drinking timings as well. Section 12 of the Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Act, passed in 2015, bans the consumption of alcohol in all public spaces from 10:30PM to 7:00AM. Retail shops are also not allowed to sell takeaway alcohol between these timings.
Fun fact: When the Act was first passed, it even applied to products with more than 5% alcohol. Yes, even rum and raisin ice cream! Eventually, this law was relaxed for products that have a low likelihood of being abused. So not to worry, you’ll be able to go on that late-night indulgent alcoholic ice-cream binge, guilt-free!
This act is a recent addition to Singapore’s laws, finding its roots in the 2013 Little India riots. Involving around 300 migrant workers, the riot lasted over two hours following a fatal traffic accident in the Little India area. The riot was Singapore’s second-ever in the post-independence era, taking place over 40 years after the first. Following a thorough investigation, it was concluded that “while alcohol was not a direct cause of the riot, it was a major contributing factor to the nature and escalation of the unrest”.
Following which, steps were taken to enact this law as a permanent solution to prevent similar instances from occurring. There are also stricter rules in Geylang and Little India, which are designated as Liquor Control Zones – places with a higher risk of public disorder associated with excessive drinking.
Don’t feed the birds
The commonly found Mynah is not a pigeon—it is, in fact a starling.
While feeding pigeons in the park might be a common sight in many countries overseas, it is outlawed here in Singapore. Under the Animals and Birds Act, no one is allowed to feed stray pigeons in any premises or public place or they may be fined. This law has been actively enforced with over 682 enforcement notices issued over the past three years.
So you might wonder — why take such as strong stance against the feeding of these “harmless” pigeons? There are a few reasons. While rats have a strong reputation of being a main harbourer of diseases, it might surprise you that pigeons also do the same. The choice of weapon? Their droppings, which can carry over 60 different kinds of diseases in them. Yikes!
Another reason why this is heavily enforced is how the leftover food from feeding them can in turn, attract more pests. Picture this – you’re seated on a bench in the city area munching on your sandwich. A couple of pigeons come up to you, seemingly begging for food. Unable to resist, you give them some of your crumbs. This continues until they’re full and can take no more. Then, what happens to the leftover crumbs on the floor? Enter cockroaches, rats and other pests that pose a health risk to the community and are potential disease transmitters. So remember, don’t feed the pigeons the next time you’re in town, regardless of the kind eyes they give you.
You now have a good knowledge of obscure but interesting laws in Singapore – perfect to impress your friends with the next time you’re here for a holiday! In the case of Singapore, some strange, absurd-sounding laws have rich backstories that truly make Singapore a fine, clean city in its own right.