Nothing to sneeze at

Posted 07.19.06

Environmental pollution is nothing to sneeze at, literally or figuratively. It not only irritates the airways, causing a dramatic increase in asthma in children, but has contributed to the haze and smog that bothers even those who are not normally allergic.

But it's a big leap from trying to control car exhaust (particularly from idling buses), pesticide spraying, and similar activities to controlling what scented products we use on our bodies, our clothing, or in our homes.

We already see signs in many public places warning theatre-goers, for example, not to wear perfumes.

A few militants have written letters to local newspapers proclaiming that they are made ill by the scent of after-shave or deodorant on the bus, and urge the banning of everything with a detectable odor.

But there's a huge disconnect between those promoting a scent-free environment and the marketplace.

Just try to buy unscented products in the stores. A search through an entire row of deodorants and anti-perspirants reveals a stunning variety of scents, but few, if any unscented ones.

The same is true of hand lotions, make-up, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, and both liquid and bar soaps.

Then there are scents left on our clothes.

I happen to need a laundry detergent free of all additives, including brighteners, softeners, coloring agents, and scents. Good thing I stocked up on Tide Free a year ago when it was on sale. I can't find it anywhere now.

Instead, every laundry detergent on the shelves contains a scent, a fabric softener, bleach, or some other additive.

The detergent we use to wash our dishes also comes in various fragrances, and these residues, in sufficient quantity and combinations, produce the scents that permeate each individual's body and clothing.

Scented candles have taken on a life of their own. They appear not only in gift shops but entire aisles of other stores, from Zeller's to Loblaw's.

Is the city going to outlaw the sales of these products?

The recent smoking ban had some restaurant and bar owners up in arms about potential loss of business. What are stores going to do if they have to refuse to stock their shelves with scented products? Or if their customers can't purchase these items because of a public ban?

As for perfume, every Hollywood star now has a scent associated with her image. Even male stars have lent their names to "signature" scents. If more venues are banning fragrances, who is buying these expensive perfumes in their designer bottles?

And will all stores, from drugstores to big box discount stores, have to completely eliminate these high-profit items? Will their suppliers agree to deliver the unscented items without the rest of the line? You can bet that signature perfumes represent a significant part of their inventory.

The problem with banning anything is thinking through the process to its end result. Helping everyone become more aware of all kinds of environmental pollution is a wise measure. A widespread and comprehensive ban on all scented products may not be.

Barbara Floria Graham is the author of the 20th anniversary edition of Five Fast Steps to Better Writing and Mewsings/Musings. Her website: www.SimonTeakettle.com

Copyright © 2006 Barbara Floria Graham/Log Cabin Chronicles/07.06