A run on rumors

A few weeks ago, while standing in a lineup for toilet tissue, my friend, standing 6 feet away, turned to me laughing, and said, “You know, in 1973 the comedian Johnny Carson read some false information about toilet paper shortages, and cracked a couple jokes about it on his Tonight Show.” In the following weeks customers flooded stores buying rolls and rolls of toilet paper, leaving empty shelves, which reinforced the rumor that the US was running out of toilet paper.

After thousands upon thousands of years of evolving civilizations, it was American brothers Clarence and Irwin Scott who introduced toilet paper on rolls in the 1890s. Initially it was not a great success. Many people were embarrassed by bodily functions and were too shy to openly buy this new offering. The widespread acceptance of bathroom tissue occurred only with the dawn of the 20th century as more and more homes were built with flush toilets. The product was then recommended by both doctors and plumbers. 

Now toilet tissue is becoming a luxury item—not only because of presumed shortages, but because production costs are rising, pulp is becoming expensive, trees need to be saved, energy costs are up, and even the water needed in the manufacturing process is becoming scarce. In fact, water is now considered a more hygienic replacement for toilet tissue, and in some countries like Japan the majority of houses are equipped with high-tech toilets. Those are catching on here too, but very slowly.

My lineup started moving and I purchased my limit of two packages. As I was driving home, I was sure glad that we don’t have to use the things that people had to use in the past: leaves, fruit skins, seashells, corncobs, sponges on sticks, wooden sticks, or pages of the Sears catalogue. 
—George Szasz, CM, MD

Suggested reading
Akbar AZ. The butt, to wipe or not to wipe. Accessed 6 May 2020. www.pubtexto.com/journals/journal-of-clinical-gastroenterology-and-hepat....

Apartment therapy. A brief history of toilet paper. Accessed 6 May 2020. https://www.apartmenttherapy.com/a-brief-history-of-toilet-paper-197703

Snopes. Did Johnny Carson cause a toilet paper shortage in 1973? Accessed 6 May 2020. www.snopes.com/fact-check/johnny-carson-tp-shortage.

This post has not been peer reviewed by the BCMJ Editorial Board.

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