Chewing gum tax proposed in Britain

Last night on the Dennis Miller show, he was making fun of Britain's new proposal to add an extra tax on chewing gum to fund "gum clean up" in the cities and I thought it was pretty funny. So I checked out some articles on it and found that while it seems trivial on the surface, it turns out this is a major problem in London and Edinburgh especially. It costs Britain £150 million (US$250 million) a year to clean gum off their sidewalks. It costs around 3 pence to manufacture a stick of gum but roughly 10 pence to remove it from the street. The new proposal, which is likely to be passed, would levy a 1 pence tax on each pack of chewing gum, which is forecast to provide £9m a year and would go directly to local councils and public authorities.

The police are unable to effectively enforce littering fines on all the millions of people who spit out their gum as they walk down the streets. This problem is so widespread and unavoidable, it seems like a greater solution would be to dish the total cost of clean up onto the gum chewers and charge a 15-17 pence tax per pack. This also potentially discourages people from buying the gum in the first place. This raises the question, who is responsible for this problem? Is it the gum chewers, the gum manufacturers or the government?


Drake said...

The issue is with people who chew gum. If people who chew gum would just throw it away when they are done with it instead of spitting it on the ground Edinburgh would not have to spend huge amounts of money to clean it up. If you chew gum throw it away or pay the tax.

scott said...

If it passes, they should start taxing cigarettes for the cost of putting out forest fires caused by cigarettes and plastic and paper goods for the cost of cleaning up national parks.

Dr. Tufte said...

This is a good example of a negative externality. The way to deal with these is to internalize the cost - generally by taxing the offending users. So this seems very sensible to an economist.

BTW: for those of you that don't know, you can't even buy gum in Singapore because of this problem.

Anonymous said...

I travel a lot across the globe, and why is it London and Edinburgh have this problem (unlike Moscow, San Francisco, Dallas, New York, Madrid)?

This is a sad commentary on the British people. Watch this video on YouTube about the nasty sidewalks of London and Edinburgh...

Yes, a gum tax (and a hefty one) is a good idea... but if someone pays a gum tax, will their mindset make them justify spitting their gum on their sidewalks, thinking, "Hey, I'm paying to have my gum removed, therfore I am justified for spitting it on the sidewalk."