WHO, WHAT, WHY?
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Sales of chewing gum are at record levels (and creating a costly headache for council clean-up teams). Why?
It may be the scourge of the bus seat, the pavement and the school desk, but we love it more than ever.
Gum consumption in the UK is at its highest for decades, according to research by Mintel, and is expected to rise further in the coming years. Last year in the UK, £317m was spent on gum, up 37% on 2001.
And while Wayne Rooney may be one of its high-profile consumers, it is the middle-aged who are driving its growth. Nearly half of people aged between 45 and 54 chewed gum in 2005, twice as many in that age group in 1975, says Mintel. And three-quarters of children aged between seven and 14 indulged last year, slightly down on previous years.
Mintel's consumer analyst Julie Sloan says it's no longer considered just a sweet.
TYPICAL GUM CHEWER
Female, aged 15-24
Lower middle-class, employed, large family
"It's become more relevant to today's consumer. People are thinking it's two-in-one - a sweet fix and cleaning your teeth or freshening breath at the same time. More people are light users, maybe a few times a month, which suggests it's more a case of sharing gum like after a spicy meal, rather than a standard habit."
A stronger focus on healthy eating has also contributed to gum's appeal, she says, because people are turning to sugar-free gum in an attempt to make some kind of "sacrifice" in their diet. The sugar-free brands now make up three-quarters of the total market.
Stress relief is another factor, although not so many gum-lovers admit to it, says Ms Sloan. Traditional spikes in gum demand occur at New Year, Lent and No Smoking Day, when nicotine consumption falls.
With a smoking ban in pubs due in April, chewing gum sales are expected to rise another third before 2010.
So will the UK's streets pay the penalty? After all, gum chewers, including Sir Alex Ferguson and Britney Spears, like to spit their gum out. And not usually into a litter bin.
It's a habit costing councils, using high-powered hoses, a futile £4.5m a year. To do the clean-up job properly would cost them £150m, it's estimated.
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But we are hopeful a rise in gum sales does not mean more litter, says Peter Gibson of Keep Britain Tidy, who is encouraged by events in Preston, where gum-dropping fell by 80% in a pilot scheme last year. The council invested in education through advertising, better enforcement of fines and free plastic pouches to deposit the gum.
"We're using that model and trying to develop it with local councils into a national campaign," says Mr Gibson.
Other imaginative solutions have also been tried. In Huddersfield, people were invited to put their used gum on a Yes or No board to answer a debate. And in Manchester, a man equipped with a megaphone humiliated offenders in the city centre.
A gum board is one solution
Meanwhile the holy grail - a biodegradable gum - is also being developed.
It's easy to think of gum as a very American product of the modern world, but the ancient Greeks loved a chew too - for them it was mastiche, a resin taken from tree bark.
White settlers in the US adopted the Native American habit for spruce gum, but it wasn't until the 1860s, when the magic ingredient chicle was added to give it a stickiness, that modern chewing gum was born.