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Mexico confronts a sticky situation

When it comes to chewing gum, lawmaker Juan Manuel Diaz Franco knows his stuff.

All it takes is a quick read through a bill he proposes for a tax on chewing gum to see that he’s done his research. Diaz Franco will submit the bill in Mexico’s lower chamber today. But it’s already on the web here.

For starters, Diaz Franco notes, Mexicans chew a lot of gum, an average of two and a half sticks a day, or nearly four pounds a year. And many chewers just throw their wads anywhere, making a mess of things.

Of course, in defending his proposed tax on gum, Diaz Franco notes that this is a worldwide problem, and governments have chosen different methods to tackle it.

England spends around 7 million euros ($9 million) a year cleaning up gum. The city of Liverpool took matters into its own hands and taxes each pack of gum. Northern Ireland is considering a 10 percent tax on gum and says it would raise between $4.9 million and $6.2 million a year.

Spain also has tackled the issue, the bill says. Zaragoza estimates that it spends .11 euros (14 cents) to clean each wad. Murcia spends .30 euros (39 cents). Malaga found 48,000 wads of stuck gum in one park just in one weekend. China has cracked down on gum after 600,000 wads were cleaned up from Tiananmen Square. Singapore banned gum chewing in 1992.

In Mexico, the bill says, an average stick of gum costs about 5 U.S. cents but it requires an outlay of 19 cents to clean it up.

“For decades, we have heard various incoherent proposals to solve this problem, ranging from suggesting that citizens swallow their gum to intimidation campaigns of fines even though it is difficult to detect offenders, due to the speed with which they spit their gum.”


Diaz Franco says City Hall has “invested $50,000 in 10 specialized machines” – I wonder what those machines look like? – “to clean the gum stuck to the streets, sidewalks, plazas, sculptures, trees and elsewhere. Authorities have said they counted 70 pieces of gum stuck per meter square, and 700 detached gum per day, representing a source of infection that urgently needs to be eradicated.”


He goes on: Each wad of gum can contain as many as 50,000 bacteria, and take four to five years to biodegrade.

So here’s the lowdown: The bill would tag a 50 percent tax on each pack of gum and an additional tax of 15 centavos (about a penny) on each stick. The tax would be divided between federal government and cities.

Stay tuned to see if those sticky wads disappear from the sidewalks.


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This blog is written by Tim Johnson, the Mexico bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.

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