In October 2019, a post circulated on Facebook advising smokers to use potassium bitartrate — commonly known as cream of tartar — along with orange juice as an effective and inexpensive way to quit smoking successfully.
Alongside a blurry image of a jar of cream of tartar, the original poster enthused that the purported smoking cessation tool cost “$5 of Food Stamps” (a possible draw for smokers unable to afford expensive prescription medication):
How I quit smoking by spending $5 of Food Stamps:
#QuitSmoking #Smoking #Nicotine #Addiction
I had been a smoker for many years and made several attempts to quit. First it was the patch, then the gum. Didn’t work. Tried acupressure, nope, my insurance at the time paid for Chantix so I tried that, moderate success. I quit for a period, but eventually started again.
When I got divorced, I lost the insurance plan I had and my new one wouldn’t pay for Chantix, so what was I to do?
When you’re poor and on limited income, being a smoker is horrible; do I want to eat or smoke, hmm. And there’s now way you can afford to buy the Patch and gum to help ween yourself off of them! So I was in between a rock and a hard place.
Well, I saw a post on Facebook that sounded pretty simple, and very inexpensive. I thought, “No way this is real” but I was desperate and willing to try about anything at that point. And here’s the kicker, what I was about to try, the remedy, I could buy using $5 in Food Stamps!
Why not! OK, here ya go, I did this and I quit in three days!
Go to your favorite grocery store and buy Cream of Tartar Seasoning and a gallon of Orange Juice. Mix 1 teaspoon in a glass and drink 2x a day. I recommend when you get up and another glass halfway through your day.
I know this sounds too simple, but it really works! The Cream of Tartar flushes the nicotine out of your system and blocks it from receiving it again! After about two days, smoking tastes like shit, you’re blocked from the nicotine rush and the desire is gone!
Based on a very high share count, the idea that cream of tartar and orange juice might be an inexpensive and effective way to beat nicotine cravings proved to be immediately alluring. According to the poster, after three days of starting the combination that he had successfully quit, because the mixture purportedly “blocked” smokers from the pleasurable effects of nicotine.
Some commenters said that they would try it after not successfully quitting smoking other ways:
I think I’m going to try this! I have tried everything else and nothing seems to work!
Others tagged loved ones to ask if they’d make an attempt to quit, offering to supply the two ingredients:
if i get you the stuff will you try this
The original Facebook post contained no links to articles, videos, or any information about the combination of orange juice and cream of tartar as a smoking cessation aid accompanied it.
That specific mixture did not originate with that Facebook post either, as it was mentioned on r/stopsmoking in early 2019:
On the plus side, the orange juice and cream of tartar combination to quit smoking was generally inexpensive, and there was no immediate reason to believe it was possibly harmful.
Research published in 2013 in the Journal of Medical Toxicology said that tartaric acid (or cream of tartar) rarely caused adverse effects, citing two rare cases of hyperkalemia (high levels of potassium in blood) resulting from excessive consumption:
Cream of tartar (potassium bitartrate) has a long history as a cooking aid and medicinal purgative. Despite containing large amounts of potassium, there are no well-documented cases of it causing toxicity. We report two cases in which intentional ingestions of cream of tartar resulted in life-threatening hyperkalemia. In addition, we briefly review the use of cream of tartar as a historical purgative.
Researchers actually had to go back to 1837 to uncover a single possible fatal adverse effect:
In spite of its high potassium content and its widely reported beneficial effects, a search of an academic internet database using the terms cream of tartar or potassium bitartrate revealed no cases of poisoning. However, using a generic internet search engine, we were able to find one case in the medical literature. In 1837, the London Medical Gazette included a case report of the death of an employee of a company manufacturing ‘Morrison’s Pills’. These pills were said to be a “cure for all curable diseases,” and were peddled with the philosophy that the more you take the sooner you would get better.
In the two cases in the research, both patients ingested an estimated six tablespoons of the substance, which led to symptoms like diarrhea. Both patients were discharged quickly and recovered well. Overall, the research in question suggested that excess ingestion is exceedingly rare; the post recommended a single tablespoon over the course of the day. We were unable to find any additional indication the substance was either dangerous alone or dangerous combined with orange juice.
However, we were similarly unable to substantiate the claim that cream of tartar and orange juice to quit smoking worked, or even was at all effective. Other YouTubers anecdotally promoted the rumor, as did uncited and unsourced blog posts.
In April 2019, the television talk show The Doctors acknowledged that the claim was spreading through email, maintaining that there was no evidence of the tip’s efficacy:
The Doctors share a current email making the rounds claiming that mixing cream of tartar with orange juice will help flush nicotine out of the body so you won’t have cravings. The email also says the drink will significantly change the taste of nicotine so drinking it will fight the urge.
The Doctors give it a sip and it taste like… orange juice. “Just a little more tart,” adds plastic surgeon Dr. Andrew Ordon. ER physician Dr. Travis Stork isn’t sold on this tip but does acknowledge that drinking juice as well as doing anything besides grabbing a cigarette can be a distraction.
A 2018 segment of the show about the mixture was also available. Overall, the hosts reiterated that the combination might serve as a distraction, much in the same way that chewing gum or eating lollipops could.
An early iteration of the claim originated on an “alternative health” blog in August 2007. A reader wrote in to the site to claim that orange juice with cream of tartar was an effective way to quit smoking. Interestingly, while the site maintained an anecdote-heavy editorial style, the alternative health advice dispensed did not indicate that the combination worked as the letter writer described:
The benefit of the cream of tartar in the cessation of smoking appears to be, 1) the replacement of potassium that smoking robs from the cardiovascular system, and 2) balancing body pH, which typically becomes too acidic when toxins from cigarettes are present.
Each cigarette you smoke robs your body of about 25 milligrams of vitamin C. Orange juice, NOT from concentrate, helps replace this much-needed vitamin C. Actually, all toxins demand extra vitamin C to remove the toxic load found in your cells. When toxins are elevated, more vitamin C is needed to maintain health during Detox.
In the letter, its author claimed that “nicotine cravings” were lessened by orange juice and tartaric acid. In response, the blogger said that the “benefits” of the combination were replacement of nutrients (primarily potassium) and “balancing body pH.” On a site extremely friendly to anecdotal and folk medicine, there was no indication that “nicotine cravings” were lessened by the combination of orange juice and cream of tartar — instead, smokers trying to quit were advised to go cold turkey, and just stop smoking entirely and immediately.
Claims that cream of tartar and orange juice were effective in quitting smoking have circulated on the internet since at least 2007 and likely earlier, spiking virally in October 2019. Although we found no evidence that the tip is at all harmful, we also found absolutely no evidence it is even mildly effective. Those interested in smoking cessation might be better served by federal and state subsidized assistance, some of which fell under the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as Obamacare.)
Update, October 22 2019, 2:48pm: Rodney Gilstrap, author of the Facebook post, contacted us with additional information about his experience using orange juice and cream of tartar to quit smoking. He indicated that he learned of the method via word of mouth, and researched it before his smoking cessation attempt:
I can tell you that it 100% worked for me and that I first learned of it from a previous Facebook post. Google shows several resources that back the claim, but I can tell you it did work for me. I had no idea the post would go Viral as it has, just sharing my experience.
Gilstrap was surprised at the post’s viral popularity, adding that he subsequently heard from other former smokers who also found success using the described strategy. A fellow Facebook user reported their relief heading into their second day of the method without having smoked at all. That user said they formerly smoked a pack of cigarettes a day, that they’d “tried everything under the sun” with no success before finding the post, that they were surprised to discover they felt “no desire to have a cigarette,” and they “[didn’t] even feel like picking [a cigarette] up” after starting the regimen.
Gilstrap explained that he shared the post because several people asked how he quit smoking using orange juice and cream of tartar, and emphasized that he (and other former smokers) found it to be very effective. As noted in both the Facebook post and our fact check, the method is affordable and there is no known risk associated with either ingredient or a combination of both ingredients, and social media users have reported individual success in their attempts.