The Case of the Carbolic Smoke Ball

Clive Coleman tells the story for BBC Radio 4 of the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company. It was an 1892 case of fraudulent advertising. The case against them is "seen by some as the birth of modern consumer protection":

The carbolic smoke ball was a peculiar device marketed as a cure for various ailments including influenza. It consisted of a rubber ball, filled with powdered carbolic acid. You squeezed the ball sending a puff of acidic smoke right up a tube inserted into your nose. The idea was that your nose would run and the cold would be flushed out.
The company making the ball advertised it in the Pall Mall Gazette offering a £100 reward to anyone using it correctly who then contracted influenza. They deposited £1,000 in the Alliance Bank in Regent Street to show the money was there.

Advertising Health/Medicine

Posted on Fri Nov 06, 2009


I'm in law school, and this case is actually in my Contracts textbook. They also have the Leonard v. PepsiCo case, which I'm sure you know.
Posted by ostrakos  on  Fri Nov 06, 2009  at  02:39 PM
I'm happy to hear that it's still in Contracts. There is considerable time devoted to the case ( by Professor Kingsfield in the movie _The Paper Chase_ (and also the novella and TV series). The other major case is that of the "hairy hand" (Hawkins v. McGee) (

I highly recommend the novella _The Paper Chase_ to anyone about to enter grad school or law school. It's quite motivating and gets one's perspective in the right place. The movie, however, is generally depressing, but still worth watching. And on the flip side, the TV series is too joyful.
Posted by Taed  on  Sat Nov 07, 2009  at  06:02 AM
Tracing back fraudulent advertising has to be a investigation that never ends, going all the way back to the beginning of commerce.
Posted by Steve  on  Thu Nov 19, 2009  at  07:22 AM
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