Snake oil | Wikipedia audio article

Snake oil | Wikipedia audio article


Snake oil is a euphemism for deceptive marketing. It refers to the petroleum-based mineral oil
or “snake oil” that used to be sold as a cure-all elixir for many kinds of physiological problems. Many 19th-century United States and 18th-century
European entrepreneurs advertised and sold mineral oil (often mixed with various active
and inactive household herbs, spices, and compounds, but containing no properties of
snakes) as “snake oil liniment”, making frivolous claims about its efficacy as a panacea. William Rockefeller Sr. used “rock oil” as
a cancer cure without the reference to snakes. Patent medicines that claimed to be a panacea
were extremely common from the 18th century until the 20th, particularly among vendors
masking addictive drugs such as cocaine, amphetamine, alcohol and opium-based concoctions or elixirs,
to be sold at medicine shows as medication or products promoting health. In traditional Chinese medicament, it is a
medicine utilizing fat extracted from the Chinese water snake (Enhydris chinensis). It is a rubefacient or ointment, and is applied
topically to relieve minor physical pain. It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine
for many centuries, and is a relatively common medication prescribed by doctors ascribing
the practice of traditional Chinese medicine. Its effectiveness as medicine has been a historical
source of controversy in the Western world, where there is much confusion over its origin
and constitution due to a U.S. District Court judgment against Clark Stanley.==History==
The marketing concept for snake oil was likely transferred to the US from trade, immigration,
and exposure to 18th-century British culture. However, the actual source of its use as a
folk remedy was likely introduced, similarly to its introduction in the UK, by Chinese
laborers involved in building the First Transcontinental Railroad in the US, and were undoubtedly familiar
with traditional Chinese medicine, using snake oil to treat joint pain such as arthritis
and bursitis, while introducing it to fellow American workers. When rubbed on the skin at the painful site,
snake oil was claimed to bring relief. This claim was ridiculed by 19th-century rival
medicine salespeople, who competed with snake oil entrepreneurs in peddling other medicines
for pain, often offering more hazardous alternatives such as alcohol or opium. Patent medicines originated in England, where
a patent was granted to Richard Stoughton’s elixir in 1712. There were no federal regulations in the United
States concerning the safety and effectiveness of drugs until the 1906 Food and Drugs Act. Thus, the widespread marketing and availability
of dubiously advertised patent medicines without known properties or origin persisted in the
US for a much greater number of years than in Europe. In 18th-century Europe, especially in the
UK, viper oil had been commonly recommended for many afflictions, including the ones for
which oil from the rattlesnake (pit viper), a type of viper native to America, was subsequently
favored to treat rheumatism and skin diseases. Though there are accounts of oil obtained
from the fat of various vipers in the Western world, the claims of its effectiveness as
a medicine have never been thoroughly examined, and its efficacy is unknown. It is also likely that much of the snake oil
sold by Western entrepreneurs was illegitimate, and did not contain ingredients derived from
any kind of snake. Snake oil in the United Kingdom and United
States probably contained modified mineral oil. In popular culture within the United States,
snake oil is particularly renowned to be a commodity peddled at American Old West-themed
medicine shows, although the judgment condemning snake oil as medicine took place in Rhode
Island, and involved snake oil manufactured in Massachusetts. The snake oil peddler is a stock character
in Western movies, depicted as a traveling “doctor” with dubious credentials, selling
fake medicines with boisterous marketing hype, often supported by pseudo-scientific evidence. To increase sales, an accomplice in the crowd
(a shill) will often attest to the value of the product in an effort to provoke buying
enthusiasm. The “doctor” will leave town before his customers
realize they have been cheated. This practice has wide-ranging implications,
and is known as a confidence trick, a type of fraud. This particular confidence trick is purported
to have been a common mechanism utilized by peddlers in order to sell various counterfeit
and generic medications at medicine shows. The drastic amount of fraud extending to the
drug epidemic was unfolded, and exposed with a judgment against Clark Stanley, which condemned
the patented Clark Stanley’s Snake Oil Liniment in US District Court.==From cure-all to quackery==The composition of snake oil medicines varies
markedly among products. Clark Stanley’s Snake Oil Liniment – produced
by Clark Stanley, the “Rattlesnake King” – was tested by the United States government’s Bureau
of Chemistry, the precursor to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA,) in 1916. It was found to contain: mineral oil, 1% fatty
oil (assumed to be tallow), capsaicin from chili peppers, turpentine, and camphor.Although
most snake oil in the Western world was drastically overpriced and falsely advertised, it is arguable
whether or not it is actually representative of a placebo—given that Clark Stanley’s
Snake Oil Liniment, the only Western produced snake oil known to have been examined, is
similar in composition to modern-day capsaicin-based liniments or chest rubs. None of the oil content was found to have
been extracted from actual snakes. Nonetheless, the composition of most snake
oil is essentially the same as Vicks VapoRub, which contains camphor. Snake oil (along with many chest rubs) utilizes
camphor as an active ingredient. Clark Stanley, the most renowned peddler of
snake oil who is popularly known as “The Rattlesnake King”, marketed a brand of snake oil containing
capsaicin as an active ingredient in addition to camphor. Capsaicin also continues to be commonly used
in many non-narcotic pain patches, and is found in many competing brands of chest rubs
as well as in pepper spray. In 1916, subsequent to the passage of the
Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906, Clark Stanley’s Snake Oil Liniment was examined by the Bureau
of Chemistry, and found to be drastically overpriced and of limited value. As a result, Stanley faced federal prosecution
for peddling mineral oil in a fraudulent manner as snake oil. In his 1916 civil hearing instigated by federal
prosecutors in the U.S. District Court for Rhode Island, Stanley pleaded nolo contendere
(no contest) to the allegations against him, giving no admission of guilt. His plea was accepted, and as a result, he
was fined $20 (about $457 in 2018). The term snake oil has since been established
in popular culture as a reference to any worthless concoction sold as medicine, and has been
extended to describe a widely ranging degree of fraudulent goods, services, ideas, and
activities such as worthless rhetoric in politics. By further extension, a snake oil salesman
is commonly used in English to describe a quack, huckster, or charlatan.==Modern implications==
Many modern health products continue to be marketed using techniques formerly associated
with snake oil. The marketing comprises storefronts, retail
stores, and traveling peddlers; example products are herbalism, dietary supplements, or a Tibetan
singing bowl (used for healing.) Claims that these products are scientific,
healthy, or natural are dubious. There are no known accounts of snake oil peddled
in the United States or Europe containing any trace of actual snake extract (unlike
snake oil in traditional Chinese medicine). Snake oil in Western culture is a fraudulent
panacea, although generally less dangerous than many other patent medicines containing
intoxicating or hazardous ingredients. Nonetheless, snake oil represents a type of
fraud that covers the intoxicating drugs once sold at medicine shows. Many of these remain available today, though
they may be manufactured by pharmaceutical companies, require a prescription, and undergo
government regulation.==See also==
Beecham’s Pills Daffy’s Elixir
Dalby’s Carminitive Hadacol
(Lydia) Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound Nine oils
patent medicine RUBA535
Turlington’s Balsam

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