by Greg Mayer
Perhaps just by coincidence, today’s New York Times features two articles concerning snake oil: one about an exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art of posters promoting dubious remedies, and the other about the relationship between Senator Snake Oil, Orrin Hatch of Utah, and the “nutritional supplement” industry.
The exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art features a selection of striking and colorful posters from the William H. Helfand Collection that advertise a variety of patent medicines and mostly questionable nostrums (a number of them are shown on the Times and Museum websites). Sen. Hatch is infamous as the primary sponsor of the “Snake Oil Salesman’s Relief Act of 1994”, which exempted “nutritional supplements” from the requirements of safety and efficacy of the pure food and drug laws. As the Times‘ story details, he has been well remunerated by the industry for his continuing support. Supplement manufacturers are not supposed to claim that supplements cure disease, but they try to skate the line (and sometimes cross over it, as shown in the article) by making vague claims of improving function or energy, and adding very small print disclaimers that say the FDA has not checked any of their claims. Orac at Respectful Insolence follows the supplement industry’s shenanigans fairly regularly.