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PolitiFact: BuzzFeed 'awesome fact' about R.I. toothbrush, toothpaste sales is awesomely wrong

The statement

"In Providence, R.I., it's illegal to sell toothpaste and a toothbrush to the same customer on a Sunday."

BuzzFeed, July 14 in a website list

The ruling

The sponsored post "11 Awesome Facts You Never Knew About Rhode Island" on the popular news and entertainment website BuzzFeed declared that in the capital city of Providence "it's illegal to sell toothpaste and a toothbrush to the same customer on a Sunday."

For the uninitiated, BuzzFeed is always trying to take a hot topic and make it hotter. BuzzFeed loves lists. Its July 19 home page featured "The 33 Fluffiest Animals On The Planet," "38 Things Catholic Girls Love" (No. 7 is "Pancakes." No explanation is offered), and "14 Not-At-All-Gratuitous Breast Ads." (Note to BuzzFeed: They are gratuitous.)

We emailed BuzzFeed and asked for its source.

We also checked Rhode Island law to see if there is a toothpaste-toothbrush statute that applies to Providence (or any community). We came up with nothing.

We also checked the online version of Providence's city ordinances. We found nada.

Then we called Providence City Hall and spoke to Deputy City Clerk Lori Hagen, who indulged us and did her own check. She found zip. The ordinances don't contain any derivative of the word "tooth."

If it existed, "it would be in the code of ordinances," Hagen said, adding that she's never heard of any such restriction. She's worked for the city for 24 years.

We thought it might be an old ordinance, repealed long ago. City Archivist Paul Campbell came up with bupkis.

When we heard back from BuzzFeed, its spokeswoman, Augusta Mellon, said in an email that a Google search for "sell toothbrush toothpaste sunday rhode island" produced over 8 million hits. (We checked that claim as well. Actual number of hits: about 650, and some didn't even refer to the "law.")

Mellon said, "There's multiple accredited sources that have written about it, including the Brown Daily Herald and the Telegraph" in Australia.

The unnamed blogger for the Herald, Brown University's student newspaper, reported buying both items at a local CVS, insisted that the prohibition was real, and treated the purchase like an act of civil disobedience. The blogger's source turned out to be a list at DumbLaws.com, which cites no actual law.

At least the Telegraph story begins: "Here is a list of the world's most ridiculous laws or urban myths — we're not quite sure."

BuzzFeed's Mellon ended her email by saying, "It seems like it's a commonly referenced piece of information."

She should have added, "that nobody ever checks."

Oral hygiene fans can breathe a minty-fresh sigh of relief. A toothbrush and toothpaste can legally be purchased together any Sunday in Providence.

We rate this claim Pants on Fire!

Edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com.

PolitiFact: BuzzFeed 'awesome fact' about R.I. toothbrush, toothpaste sales is awesomely wrong 07/26/13 [Last modified: Friday, July 26, 2013 6:05pm]
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