Why this Singapore smoker was fined $15,000

It seems tossing cigarette butts out apartment windows is more than just frowned upon in the Southeast Asian nation. 

Christian Hartmann/Reuters/File
While smoking itself is not illegal in Singapore, casually throwing out cigarette butts can have dire consequences.

In Singapore, they take their litter seriously.

One man learned just how seriously after he was fined about $15,000 – a record amount – for throwing cigarette butts out of his apartment window, the country’s National Environment Agency told Reuters.

The smoker, who was caught on a surveillance camera, was reportedly slapped with a fine of 600 Singapore dollars for each of the 33 times he committed the offense. His 34th cigarette butt got him five hours of community service, meaning he will have to clean a public area while wearing a bright vest labeled, “Corrective Work Order,” the agency said.

Singapore has long been known for its strict laws governing cleanliness, order, and social behavior. While some see it as emblematic of an authoritarian approach, others say it's integral to an ethos of efficiency and discipline that has made Singapore – a nation a fraction of the size of the state of Delaware – a legitimate player in the world stage. Its GDP was estimated at more than $300 billion last year, and the nation was ranked second in the 2014 Index of Economic Freedom.

“Out of a malarial swamp, the tiny island at the southernmost tip of the Malay Peninsula gained independence from Britain in 1963 and, in one generation, transformed itself into a legendarily efficient place,” journalist Marc Jacobson wrote for National Geographic in 2010.

One of the country's colonial and signature forms of punishment is caning. This form of corporal punishment  is not only legal but mandatory for vandalism offenses such as displaying banners, pamphlets, or flags on public property, and writing on public property. Penalties, which apply to foreign nationals and US citizens, can include fines of up to $2,000, up to 8 strokes of the cane, and prison, Business Insider reported.

Contrary to popular belief, the act of chewing gum is allowed in Singapore. But the sale, import, and manufacture of gum has been banned since 1992, after chewing gum stuck between commuter train doors caused delays in public transport. Smuggling gum into the country can rack up fines of up to 10,000 Singapore dollars or about $8,000, along with one year of jail time.

Police also have the authority to compel both residents and non-residents to random drug tests, which means drugs ingested even before entering the country could land a person in prison. The death penalty is mandatory for some narcotics offenses.

Spitting and jaywalking are also illegal and could lead to arrest, while eating, drinking, breastfeeding, and bringing animals on a commuter train each carry fines in the hundreds of dollars.

And punishment isn’t the only route the Singaporean government has taken to get to where it is today.

An initiative called “Spot the Conscientious Motorist,” launched in 2013, has traffic cops rewarding drivers with gas vouchers and plush toys for their good driving habits.

“Earlier, there were two pedestrians crossing and then suddenly someone riding a bicycle as well, and I let them go,” taxi driver Toh Teck Hui told Channel News Asia. “Then the traffic policeman stopped me. He said I had a good spirit."

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