Chewing Gum – Safety Hazard???

I’ve heard it said that due to the “gasp reflex” chewing gum can become a choking hazard if a paddler takes an unexpected swim.

Theoretically I can see how this might occur, but has it ever actually happened to anyone? I wonder if anybody has any factual information on this – as opposed to hearsay. In other words; is this a fact or myth?

Seems like more a hazzard for children

– Last Updated: Oct-01-05 9:54 AM EST –

They have smaller airway passages than adults. Randall, you're not chewing a couple pieces at a time are you? My grandfater did.

Dare we say that no matter what the science says or fails to say, having gum in your gob during a surprise dunking in water cold enough to produce an involuntary gasp must somehow enhance the risk of getting into more serious trouble?

Didn't think so.

It depends too on…
how far you inhaled the gum to. It could get stuck past the larger bronchial airway but still I haven’t heard of anyone choking to death on gum but I’ve seen weirder stuff happen. In all, you’d bee coughing your brains out all the way to the ER to have a bronchoscope done on you if you couldn’t cough it back up.

Don’t know
if death is likely, but as a regular gum chewer, I make it a habit to lose the gum anytime i’m doing anything strenuous. When kayaking, it would be more likely that you might inhale it as you go for that last breath during an unexpected capsize. The “gasp reflex” commonly spoken of is more of a cold water issue.

In any case, I would much rather be able to concentrate on rolling up or wet exiting than choking on my gum.

Everything’s a trade-off

– Last Updated: Oct-01-05 10:53 AM EST –

To be sure, bubble gum chewing is a looming safety hazard that certainly merits more discussion on this board (perhaps in Jan/Feb.?). Of course, you must look at bubble gum chewing from "outside the wrapper" to appreciate how the possible benefits might outweigh the risks. Bubble gum COULD be used to mend a broken paddle, plug a leaking hole in your boat, or could be used as fish bait (in a food emergency). Brightly colored bubble gum could conceivably be used as a signaling device. One might even find bubble gum to be useful as a rolling assist device... by blowing a bubble while capsized, the added boyancy might be enough to right the boat.

Just my $.02 (which used to buy a gumball)

Or, you could blow a bubble and use
it for a paddle float re-entry! Seriously, It seems if water is cold enough to cause a gasp reflex then isn’t that enough of a danger(drowning) in itself? I don’t think its relevant whether there’s gum going into your lungs along with the water…or does it? I don’t know.

paddle and chew gum
seems to me that if you’re in territory where unexpected immersions are possible in cold water you shouldn’t be complicating life with stuff in your mouth.

Gum de dum dum
Yes, we typically hold off on topics of this type here at PN until we’ve run out of relevant paddling topics in mid-winter. However, at a paddling event this past summer (sanctioned by a national paddling organization) the issue of gum chewing as a safety hazard was brought up. I must say it really seemed ludicrous to me at the time, but I’ve been pondering this since.

I’m sitting here this weekend NOT PADDLING (argh!) with beautiful early fall paddling conditions nursing my sore shoulder (rotator cuff problems). So I thought: “what the heck, let’s see what the folks at PN have to say ‘bout that gum thing”. Hence my request for anybody with any actual knowledge of any incidents where a paddler in fact choked due to chewing gum/sudden emersion. So far from the responders to this thread there have been no reports along those lines. Many folks (who have responded) seem to think it’s just a joke… Others reason that it MIGHT be a problem.

I guess I’ve concluded that chewing gum, at least theoretically, could pose a choking problem during emersion in some circumstances. As some have mentioned this seems more likely in cold water. I remain skeptical that this would be a problem in warm water. That being said it’s better to be safe than sorry. I guess I’ll spit out the gum before I take to the water.

Hey Brian: Not a double gob o’ gum for me - just one small piece of Nicorette at a time. Looking at the big picture chewing gum (on the water or off) seems a lot safer than smoking… As to your granddaddy, at least he chewed gum – mine always had a big ol’ plug of “baccy” in his jaw! ;^) Randall

What about a ham sandwich ?

I would like to choke
the SOB’s that throw their gum out at the gas pumps!



distinction between yakkers and canoers?
The relative risk for gum chomping canoeist may be more than that of their kayaking brethren.

How so? My theory is that canoeist are less likely to inhale water during an involuntary gasp than kayakers. Pretty simple really, canoeists are more likely to “fall out” keeping their head above water during an unexpected swim while kayakers are more likely to dunk their faces.

If kayakers are more likely to dunk their faces, any gasp is more likely to result in water in the lungs. The added bummer of having gum in the lungs, along with the water, is probably not all that much an immediate risk enhancer.

On the other hand, if canoeists are more likely to have their faces out of the water during an involuntary gasp, then gum shooting into the lungs during a gasp is a more significant ADDITIONAL hazzard.

I know your pain
Sorry about the RC problem, I know ALL about it.

On the serious side of the gum ball…

Gasp reflex aside, if you find yourself looking for a quick breath (because of failed roll attempt or long submersion) your gum could easily be sucked into the wrong pipe, especially if you’re getting bucked around or end up upside down.

Though 4 out of 5 dentists recommend it, I’m gonna say “no thanks”.

I don’t know about kayaking…
…but I do agree that when I fall out of my canoe I rarely get my head wet.

I’ve also found that now that I fairly regularly push the envelope with new Freestyle maneuvers I fall out of my canoe a lot more often than I used to. So… as my skills improve I fall out more… Yeah, I guess that’s what I’m saying.

As to NT’s comments: Of course this is purely theoretical, but it seems to me that the bread in a ham sandwich would tend to get soggy when subjected to emersion. Perhaps toasted Kaiser rolls?

Regarding those dolts who spit out their gum at the gas pumps: Reuse is better than recycling… …or so they say…

Any time you are doing
athletics, having some food in your mouth puts you at risk for apirating it.

I know people
who chew gatorade gum while diving, because the air in the tank is really dry and can give you cottonmouth. I always thought it wasn’t the best idea, but I’m also just not a gum chewer. I think it’s kind of a gross habit, but my mother is an old-school southern belle. The gasp reflex gives one something to think about. I don’t care if someone chews gum while paddling with me, as long as they don’t smack it. They’d better not pop a bubble either while I’m sneaking up to get a better picture of a spoonbill or little blue heron, or it could be hazardous to their health.

Very dangerous
Especially if you’re listening to The Mamas and the Papas on your i-pod while you eat it.

I chewed an entire Plenty Pack
of Juicy Fruit on a dare once, but I wasn’t paddling.

It Could Be A Problem
Speaking from my own (once was enough) gasp reflex experience and some info from Atlantic Kayak Tours


Since the first reaction is a series of huge involuntary inhales, the gum could be inhaled. If you combine other symptoms (spike in blood pressure/heart rate, dizziness, panic), it can only make things worse.

Unless, of course, the victim takes those huge gulps of air while still under water, as is suspected in the case of experienced paddlers with bombproof rolls who had drowned. In this case, it probably wouldn’t matter.