The Carbolic Smoke Ball

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Pictured left is an advertisement for the Carbolic Smoke Ball, which on first impression appears a standard piece of late-Victorian medical ephemera, with little relevance to how we live our lives today.

However, this week’s episode of The Cases that Changed the World on BBC Radio 4 describes the groundbreaking legal case which resulted when the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company’s claims for the efficacy of their product were challenged in court; a case which established important principles about truth in advertising and – arguably – led to the birth of modern consumer protection.

The episode is available for listeners in the UK through the BBC’s iPlayer. A detailed description of the case is available on the BBC News website, where the Carbolic Smoke Ball story is described as: “…an odd tale set against the backdrop of the swirling mists and fog of Victorian London, a terrifying Russian flu pandemic, and a forest of unregulated quack medicines offering cures for just about everything”.

Ross Macfarlane

Ross Macfarlane is the Research Engagement Officer at the Wellcome Library.

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