Gum sales decline, and good riddance

Let’s be honest: Gum-chewing doesn’t do us any favors, making us look like cows chewing our cud. For humans, that’s not a good look.

Anyone ever grossed out by (a) someone’s smacking-loud gum chewing, (b) stepping in gooey gum on a hot sidewalk or (c) feeling it on the underside of a school desk should cheer the news that came out last week: Gum sales are down — 11 percent in just the past four years and projected to drop another 4 percent over the next five years.

People have been chewing on various substances — often tree resins such as chicle — since Neolithic times. A 16th-century Spanish missionary, Bernardino de Sahagn, wrote that the Aztecs chewed chicle to “dispel the bad odor of their mouths, or the bad smell of their teeth. Thus they chew chicle in order not to be detested.” But he pointed out that polite society chewed in private: Women who chewed in public were viewed as harlots, men as effeminate.

Chewing gum as we know it took off in this country in the latter half of the 19th century. By the 1920s, the average American chewed 105 sticks of gum a year. Again, it was a handy way to freshen breath at a time when dental hygiene wasn’t that great — especially for those who wanted to cover up the smell of a cigarette or an illegal Prohibition-era drink.

Now many of us are relying on other ways to freshen our breath — like using sonic toothbrushes, flossing regularly and popping mints. Many parents discourage their children from gum-chewing, and a growing number of us apparently have gotten the message that it looks — pardon the pun — tacky.

It’s true that gum has played a role in American culture. Generations of kids collected the baseball cards that came in gum packages and chewed away as they studied the player stats and plotted trades. They loved reading the little funnies that Bazooka gum came wrapped in and competed to blow the biggest bubbles. And many a child bonded with a grandfather over the pack of Juicy Fruit he always seemed to have in a shirt pocket.

But parents hearing about the decline of chewing gum are likely all thinking the same thing: One less icky thing to clean up after or cut out of their kids’ hair.