Vicks VapoRub PR Fail

I have to say that this whole episode is worth seeing editor and medical journalist, Ivan Oransky, MD, in a snuggie. I can't match the facts: Dr. Oransky reveals a promo-pak he received from the PR firm representing Vicks VapoRub contains about $400 of merchandise and purchase credits, but NO BLOODY VAPORUB!!! Ethics and all aside, I'm quite disappointed that the PR firm charged with promoting this traditional folk brand would act against the basic ethical tenets of the Public Relations Society of America. As Ivan notes, it's okay for PR firms to provide a small amount of complimentary product for review purposes but despite the lavish swag, there's no product in his promo-pak! On one hand, I say to Dr. Oransky that he'll be thinking otherwise than sending back his snuggie after the first blast of cold in his out-of-state getaway. On the other hand, I'm equally disheartened that the PR firm has not handled this venerable brand with the reverence deserving of one of the epic pharmacy brands of the American South. To wit, this is what you will find on Elm St in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina, just south of the F. W. Woolworth's site of the 1960 sit-ins by North Carolina A&T State University students.

North Carolina historical marker in Greensboro. Credit: DJ Kroll

  Vicks VapoRub is an old formula of natural, essential oils that are today comprised of:
  • Camphor 4.8% (Cough suppressant and topical analgesic)
  • Eucalyptus oil 1.2% (Cough suppressant)
  • Menthol 2.6% (Cough suppressant and topical analgesic)
Having your Mom or other caregiver rub it on your chest when you had a sinus or chest cold was probably far more effective as a placebo that the product itself. But the compounds do indeed act as vasoconstrictors and bronchodilators when inhaled at their very high concentrations. But after this PR stunt, old pharmacist Richardson has to be turning over in his grave. A Vicks VapoRub snuggie might help. Addendum (October 11): I've now located a more detailed description of the story behind the Lunsford Richardson historical marker from the site of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources:
Lunsford Richardson, born in 1854 in Johnston County, was educated at the Horner and Graves Academy in Oxford and enrolled at Davidson College in 1872. His mother, who had raised Lunsford and his four siblings alone, died the following year, leaving Richardson with enough money for only three years at Davidson. Richardson graduated from Davidson in 1875—number two in his class and with medals in Greek, Latin, and debating. He served four years as a principal in Cumberland County, but left school to become a pharmacist—one of the only other jobs that he felt would be served by his Latin skills. In 1880 Richardson purchased the only drugstore in Selma. Ten years later he moved to Greensboro, where he and partner John B. Fariss purchased W. C. Porter’s drug store. At Richardson-Fariss Drug Store, he began to utilize his lifelong interest in chemistry, inventing a variety of over-the-counter medications. In order to promote his medicines, Richardson sold the drugstore and established a wholesale business, the L. Richardson Drug Company. In 1905, after disagreements with stockholders over how the operation should be run, Richardson sold the business, retaining rights to his twenty-one medicines, and opened the Vick Family Remedies Company. Vicks Salve, developed by Richardson in 1894, offered promise, but was difficult to market with such a nondescript name. Richardson’s eldest son, H. Smith Richardson, joined the family business as sales manager in 1907 and recognized the need for a more descriptive name. With the honed salesmanship of Smith Richardson and under the catchy name Vick’s VapoRub, the cold remedy had garnered a national following within five years. The flu pandemic of 1918 to 1919 made Vick’s VapoRub an indispensible part of medicine chests. With operations focused on VapoRub, Richardson incorporated his business in early 1919. Ironically, Lunsford Richardson did not live to see his creation become a worldwide phenomenon, succumbing to the flu in August of that year. Richardson married Mary Lynn Smith, sister of his college classmate Henry Louis Smith. They had five children. Active in the Presbyterian Church and his community, Richardson was a champion of race relations. He was a trustee at Palmer Memorial Institute. He is buried in Greensboro’s Green Hill Cemetery. During World War II, a Liberty Ship was named Lunsford Richardson in his honor. References: H. Smith Richardson, Early History of Richardson-Merrell (1975) W. C. Burton, H. Smith Richardson (1979) Mary Beaty, History of Davidson College (1988) William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of NC Biography, V, 215-216—sketch by Norris Preyer Billy Arthur, “Breathing Easier,” Our State (January 1997)

Author: David Kroll

Share This Post On


  1. The whole story was worth it to see Dr. Oransky in the cubicle snuggie.

    Vicks (the rub) is still the second line of defense against a stuffy nose (first is — blowing the nose).

    Third is either spicy lemonaide (hot) and spicy chicken broth. Yes, lemonaide with chili sprinkled in.

    Of course, I don’t have allergies.

  2. Do not look down upon Vicks VapoRub. Millions of humble folks have used it to treat everything from arthritis and gout to fungus in nails, as documented by Dr. Gott in his famous “Ask Dr. Gott” column

  3. And don’t forget its well known use as an MDMA adjuvant!