April 25th, 2012

Chewing Gum: Plastic and Cancer?

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Blue chewing gum

Do your kids chew gum? Mine do. Not all the time, but once in a while. They love to chomp on a piece of gum-working hard to perfect their bubble blowing skills.  This time of year there are many more requests for gum in our house. It’s baseball little league season and gum and baseball seem to go hand in hand. How could it not when they watch their heroes on the Boston Red Sox chomping away on bubble gum? I guess it could be worse, they could be asking for chewing tobacco.

Is there plastic in chewing gum?

Yup. If the gum label lists “gum base” as one of their ingredients there’s a chance your gum contains “petroleum, lanolin, glycerin, polyethylene, polyvinyl acetate, petroleum wax, stearic acid, or latex” according to the Vegetarian Resource Group.  An article in The Ecologist stated that “Today the ubiquitous ingredient ‘gum base’ is label shorthand for an alphabet soup of potentially toxic ingredients.”

My friend Beth from My Plastic Free Life wrote a fantastic piece about plastic in gum. She revealed that polyvinyl acetate (a type of plastic possibly found in gum) is manufactured using vinyl acetate, a chemical shown to cause tumors in lab rats. The catch-all phrase “gum base” makes it difficult for consumers to know which gum actually contains polyvinyl acetate since the specific ingredients that make up “gum base” don’t need to be spelled out.

Gum candy coating possibly linked to cancer

I first read about the potential health issues with candy coated gum on The Lunch Tray. Gum manufacturers are using titanium dioxide to make the hard candy coating found on some chewing gum and other candies. The gum I’m talking about is generally the square chiclet shaped gum with the white candy coating. According to a recent study, children were more likely exposed to titanium dioxide and it was found to be “possibly carcinogenic”. Titanium dioxide has also been linked to Crohn’s disease and asthma. It’s important to note that there have been no conclusive links between titanium dioxide and these health risks-but the question still lingers: should we continue chewing gum if there’s a potential risk?

Bottom line:

If you’re going to chew gum:

  • Read the ingredients and make an educated decision.
  • Opt for the sticks of gum over the Chiclet style pieces with hard candy coating.
  • Be aware that gum is laden with other possible toxins, including artificial sweeteners.

How to Remove chewing gum from the dryer and clothes

If your gum makes its way into the dryer or onto your clothing-Anna from Green Talk has a few great tips for getting the gum out (some are green and some not so green-but they work!).

What do you think: Should we continue chewing gum if there are potential health risks?

Blue chewing gum © Michele Piacquadio #3854681

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17 Responses to “Chewing Gum: Plastic and Cancer?”

  1. Oh no, I am chewing gum right now! I need to find the bag it came in since the ingredients are not listed on the box.

    Do you know of any safer brands? I just did a quick search and found Glee brand and it seems to get mixed reviews. I will probably try that one.

  2. Glee has plastic in it. See Beth’s article. There is a brand and it is at the tip of my tongue but I don’t remember it. I called them after I read Beth’s article. Thanks for linking to my dryer gum article. At least once a year, I have gum in the dryer. It is maddening.

  3. I chew Spry gum, and also use Spry toothpaste. Seriously, though, I know we’re trying to be healthy as possible, but are we carrying it a bit too far sometimes? You can’t cut EVERYTHING out of your life. I think we need to stop being so scared to LIVE. You only have one life, and whilke I know you want to make it as long as possible, don’t miss out by being afraid of your environment. This is my humble opinion. I live as greenly as possible, but I also think some people just take it way.too.far. Enjoy your gum, as long as you don’t chew it 24/7, you’ll be fine.

  4. Hi Lori, I agree with you. The purpose of my posts isn’t to suggest that you cut everything out of your life! The purpose is to provide information which will hopefully help us to make educated decisions about the things we put in and on our bodies. We can all only do so much and yes, it’s important to enjoy life and indulge once in a while. I value your opinion-thank you for sharing. I also chew Spry-although I go through it quickly because it seems to lose its taste. Does that happen to you too?

  5. Hi Anna, I also remember seeing that Glee has plastics in it. Was Spry the gum you were thinking of? I’m shocked that I haven’t found gum in my dryer-I’m sure that day is coming!

  6. Hi Marsha, my motto is everything in moderation. As Lori says (the other Lori!), enjoy your gum but know what you’re chewing. I have to check is Spry gum is OK…..

  7. Peelu. I had brain fog yesterday. It doesn’t last long but is tasty.

  8. I haven’t heard of Peelu Anna. None of the “natural” gums keep their flavor for very long!

  9. Yes, Glee Gum definitely has plastic in the gum base. Spry doesn’t but comes packaged in plastic, so it’s not a viable alternative for me either. Anna, how does Peelu come packaged? And how do you know there isn’t any plastic in the gum base?

  10. It is packaged in a plastic bottle or in a box. But I think it has those tin/plastic container for chicklets. I asked them about their gum base and they said there wasn’t any plastic in the base, but now I am rethinking it. What exactly should I ask so I can email them again.I called them by phone.

  11. Anna I would ask them to tell you all the ingredients in the gum base.

  12. Anna, Is Peelu a chiclet type gum? If it is you might want to ask them if they use titanium dioxide to make the hard candy coating. It was found to be “possibly carcinogenic”.

  13. Hi. I contacted Peelu yesterday, and here is the response I got: “Unfortunately, we do not have breakdown of the gum base as it is a proprietary blend. However, the gum base is very similar to any gum base you would find in any gum. There are plasticizers and elasticizers, which give the gum the chewy consistency, but you do not swallow those ingredients. The gum base specifically for our gums is not all natural, but the ingredients you ingest are. The Peelu dental gum is latex and petroleum free.” This is not very reassuring to me. Even if you’re not supposed to swallow the gum base, we often do accidentally. What’s more, chemicals will certainly leach from it. I asked a follow up question, but I doubt I’ll get a more complete response.

  14. Okay, I just posted about Peppersmith all natural plastic-free gum with plastic-free packaging. Check it out: http://myplasticfreelife.com/2012/05/peppersmith-makes-chewing-gum-without-plastic/

  15. Hi Beth, Thank you so much for sharing your great find. I had basically given up on finding a gum that was plastic-free and without titanium dioxide. I love everything this company stands for. The wrappers with sayings are such a clever idea to prevent gum litter. Hopefully someone will bring it over to the states! Thanks Beth.

  16. [...] free and dairy free, kosher and doesn’t contain any artificial food dyes.  I’m a bit skeptical of chewing gum in general, but if you or your kids are going to chew gum this is a good alternative.  It does [...]

  17. […] can mask your bad breath disappear for a while, but the alcohol actually dries your mouth out. Gum and mints can contain nasty ingredients that are only a temporary fix. The sugar in some breath […]

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About Lori

I’m Lori Popkewitz Alper, a recovering attorney, mom of three and the Founder of Groovy Green Livin. I hope you'll join me as I embark on a journey to live a healthy life. Along the way I might make a few pit stops to fight for issues that affect the health and safety of our families. Come along with me as I work hard to make the world a little safer for each of us. Together we'll discover that simple, small changes can lead to a healthier lifestyle and a greener planet.

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