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Chewing Gum – Harmless or Toxic?

by Tiffany in Environment, Health & Healing

Chewing Gum - Harmless or ToxicFor awhile now I have had a no gum rule for my kids. Thankfully it isn’t a real big issue since none of us were ever big gum chewers but when Halloween rolls around I need to be vigilant about gum. It has nothing to do with cavities or sugar though. It is instead about choosing that they NOT chew on plastic. Plastic has all kinds of chemical and toxic nasties and in true bone-head fashion we decided to take a relatively normal and natural product (gum) and plasticize it. Well, no thanks.

Native Americans chewed the sap from spruce trees and thus introduced us to “gun chewing” many, many years ago. During the first days of gum mass production, gum was made from chicle, which is a natural latex sourced from the sap of the Sapodilla tree. But after WWII, innovators decided to make a synthetic rubber for gum instead. A typical gum base will generally have ingredients like polyvinyl acetate (plastic) among many others. The problem is that we are essentially chewing big gummy balls of chemical laden rubber, dipped in sugars and sweeteners, when we chew conventional gums. Sounds delicious right?

Canada took steps at one point to get polyvinyl acetate listed as toxic after studies showed it was a likely carcinogen but the gum manufacturers played hardball and won out. A preservative called hydroxyanisol (BHA) is also often found in gum and it IS listed as a “reasonably anticipated’ carcinogen but that does not stop minute amounts of it from being allowed in chewing gum. Apparently this is just another industry where the ideals of capitalism are proven false and apparently money is all that is required to make selling poisonous products, perfectly legal. I should mention that the company behind Glee still uses chicle in their gum and they deserve big props for that. However I still won’t let my kids chew it because they do use some of these chemicals in their formulation.

And of course there is the environmental aspect. The gum the natives chewed and the gum made from Chicle was natural and eventually decomposed. Modern chewing gum is non-biodegradeable!

Think about how much gum you have chewed in your lifetime. You probably never gave it much thought when you wrapped it up in a piece of paper or a tissue and then tossed it in the garbage. That gum is still around though… somewhere, and probably looks pretty much the same as when you tossed it. Some countries, like Singapore, have even banned it. Others have established programs (cool link BTW) to collect and reuse (recycle) chewing gum to make new products.

If your own kids have gotten into the habit of chewing gum you may be able to convert them over to something else, like taffy or ginger chews. Or when they ask for gum in the store you can just get creative and offer them something else instead. When they go Trick or Treating perhaps you could make a deal and trade the gum for other candy or for a small bit of money. My kids now automatically know that the gum should be declined, traded, or tossed if given to them.

One clever way you might educate your kids about gum is to give them a Make Your Own Gum Kit that uses natural chicle. You could show them how gum used to be made, tell them how it is NOW made, and then discuss the health and environmental impact of gum while they have fun making some of their own flavored gum.

Have you and/or your kids made a habit of chewing gum? What have you done to avoid it?

  • Anne

    Who knew?! Thank you for this insightful article. I am not a gum chewer have plenty of friends and relatives who are so I will be forwarding them this article.And, yes, I was reading this in my feed burner until I saw your note at the end. LOL

  • Michelle

    When I was pregnant, I would get sick at the smell of any type of chemical. It seems to be something the body does to protect the fetus. I used to eat a pack a day of gum….but would start throwing up at the smell of gum. I could smell the chemicals when I was pregnant. I have not used either since (4 years now). Thank you for this very insightful article. I didnt even think about the environmental issue as well. And Thank you for the great way to teach our children what they are putting in their mouth.

  • Eliza

    Wow, I didn’t know this. I just stopped chewing because of the aspartame and because my dentist told me that my teeth were grinding down from being over-used!

  • Connie

    I too get disgusted when I read the ingredients on the packaging of gum on the store shelves – they even have warnings on them in red lettering! How did our nation get so complacent? As a teen and young adult I always enjoyed chewing gum but was advised by my dentist to avoid it because it have TMJ which has created severe popping in my lower jaw from over use. Now instead of grabbing a package of gum, I just carry peppermints or other similar items with me that don’t contain those harmful chemicals. However, I’ve found that you have to read the ingredients on EVERYTHING these days to make sure they don’t have hidden nasties.

    I never thought about the environmental impact though! I guess I never broke down the ingredients on chewing gum like I did with my beauty products to see what they actually were. I never realized that chewing gum is sugar coated chewy plastic so it makes since that it would never biodegrade. How sad! Once again, thank you for your insight and for taking time out of your day to share your knowledge with us.

  • Tiffany,

    My kids LOVE gum! They chew it all of the time and though I feel like you do I always give in because it seems like such a small thing but when I read your post it makes me rethink everything.

  • Janet

    I’ve recently begun ordering Xylichew Gum for my kids when one son had extensive dental decay (ECC- early childhood caries). It is all natural and xylitol inhibits the decay caused by bacteria. Bacteria is the culprit of cavities. I do think of it as a healthy treat -something I can let them have almost anytime they ask. Of course they maybe get a piece a week.

  • Here’s another reason NOT to chew. Chewing is the first stage of digestion. When you chew your stomach gets ready for digestion by creating more stomach acid. When no food actually enters your stomach it has an excess of acid that can cause ulcers. Not good.

  • Karen

    Unlike Michelle who posted above, I am currently pregnant and recently found out that chewing mint gum helps curb my nausea. I’m not normally a gum chewer, but I’m so nauseated that I’m resorting to this once in a while. Ginger isn’t helping and ginger chews get stuck to my teeth/dental work.

    I don’t plan on ever giving gum to my kids though.

  • Sheneen

    Thx Tiffany this is really helpful:D
    Really appreciate your hard work!!!

  • Lindsay

    This is a really good post, thanks for doing the research behind this! 

    • Thanks Lindsay! It was wonderful to meet you over the weekend BTW. :)

  • It’s disheartening that although Glee advertises their gum base as being made with natural chicle, it is still mixed with polyvinyl acetate. It’s also disheartening to me that ironically the few brands that don’t contain plastic in the gum base encase the gum in disposable plastic packaging. So far, I’ve only found one gum that is totally plastic-free: Peppersmith. But it’s a U.K. company and not distributed in the United States yet.

    Thank you for pointing out this issue at Halloween time, Tiffany.

    • Very disheartening. Thanks for sharing the info about Peppersmith though. :)