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Image: Archi Banal
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KaiAugust 26, 2022

An obituary for Airwaves chewing gum

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

Goodbye to the most intense chewing gum Aotearoa has ever known. 

This post was published in August 2022.

Sad news for owners of blocked noses around the country: Airwaves gum has officially been discontinued. After a few weeks of online rumblings, and more and more online stockists chucking up their “product unavailable” signs online, a Countdown representative has confirmed the devastating news to The Spinoff. “Unfortunately your tip is right!” they wrote in an email. “Our supplier has notified us that Airwaves have been discontinued and are no longer available in New Zealand.” 

A day later, we got another response straight from the supplier Mars’ minty mouth. “Unfortunately AIRWAVES® gum is no longer part of our range. The last stock went into the market in early June.”

For the uninitiated, Airwaves was released in New Zealand in the late-1990s, a revolutionary new chewing gum product with a strong eucalyptus and menthol kick that mimicked the sinus-clearing effects of lozenges like Vicks VapoDrops. For over two decades we wept, we inhaled and we had an extremely spicy tongue thanks to Airwaves. Join us as we take a deep, impossibly minty breath, and remember the most intense chewing gum Aotearoa has ever, ever known. 

Not like a regular gum, a “cool” gum

That curved serif font on crisp, azure packaging was certainly a clue. But there was really only one way to find out that this was in fact the most aggressive of chewing gum variants: chew and experience the functional whoosh of instantly cleared sinuses. Along with supermarket receipts, Bic ballpoint pens and, the comparatively understated PK gum, a pack of Airwaves was a constant in the cup holders of my grandpa’s car. And, despite the fact that I hate the taste, that association with sitting in the front seat of a grandparent’s car has imbued Airwaves with a very specific type of coolness in my mind. For those who covet Vicks VapoRub in edible form, Airwaves discontinuation will presumably come as unwelcome news. In my case, I’m thankful for the cool memories, but somewhat relieved to never be offered a pellet again. / Charlotte Muru-Lanning

What will she do now?

A brush with death

The first time I ate Airwaves, I thought my young life was over. I was maybe 10 years old in the back of a car trying to play it cool, but my face was beet red, my eyes were streaming with tears and my nose felt like it had been shot clean off with a bazooka. I have maybe never felt more alive than in that very moment and, although I can’t be sure I have ever paid money for a packet of Airwaves since, I have never, ever passed up a pellet when offered. It had that menthol kick so it was medicine, it was chewy so it was like a treat, it was sugarfree so it was like a salad. Remember the ads with the aqua Airwaves vapour spiralling up the nose and presumably right into the brain? Are your nostrils flaring? Mine are. And that’s what we’ve lost today. / Alex Casey

Wherefore art thou?

A weather event of the mind

Like a cyclone in your head. To quote the ad: “I’m not getting enough. I need something more powerful.” / Toby Morris

A spicy situation

I get my Nando’s hot. I can handle a mouthful of jalapeños unevenly distributed in my Subway, and as a teen sometimes me and my siblings would challenge each other to eat lil birds eye chillies off our always-abundant plant. What I’m saying is I’m OK with spice, and I attribute it all to Airwaves.

Mum would always have a pack of Airwaves in her handbag – it wasn’t a blocked nose remedy in our household as much as it was a little treat for her that, for a period of my childhood, was too spicy for me or my siblings to handle. It was an adults-only chewing gum. A spicy gum. What it lacked in subtlety, it made up for by being almost inedible to children. Its discontinuation is a disservice to parents around the country who just wanted something for themselves. Good luck keeping the kids out of your bubblemint. / Alice Webb-Liddall

What will he do now?

The lovechild of Vicks and Listerine

As a regular blocked nose sufferer, Airwaves were often my best friend on a wintry drive to work. If I’d forgotten to pop an antihistamine before getting in the car, I could pop in an Airwaves and be guaranteed clear sinuses by the time I reached my desk. Even better, it left me with a lovely, extraordinarily powerful minty taste that somehow seemed to persevere throughout the day, no matter how many coffees I’d drink. It’s the closest I could get to smearing Vicks directly into my nasal cavity while simultaneously sculling a bottle of Listerine. In the Covid era, the more daring among us would chew on an Airwave while wearing a mask, creating a potent minty hotbox for our faces. Move over 5 Gum, I just want to relive how it feels to chew an Airwave again. RIP. / Stewart Sowman-Lund

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