Nancy Radcliffe responds to Michael Fumento: Scents-orship

January 01, 2000  ·  Michael Fumento  ·  the Halifax Daily News  ·  Mcs

Odour activists have given Halifax a bad name. Or maybe we earned it by being gullible and apathetic.

Nancy Radcliffe

A story in last Saturday’s National Post described the growing number of scent-free policies that have inundated our government buildings, schools, and workplaces as "the Halifax holy war." Halifax is also a "hysteria hotbed," and the foothold of "fragrance fanatacism." The author, Michael Fumento, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. who specializes in health and safety issues, looked across North America and found that "nowhere is (scent hysteria) worse than ocean-fresh Halifax." ("Scents and Senselessness", The American Spectator, April 2000)

Ouch. I thought our salty city was caught in the "no scents" wave sweeping the continent, but we’re leading the way. And considering the lack of evidence supporting claims that fragrances make people ill, I’d like to know why we allowed the demands of professional victims to go unchecked.

Fragrance foes are pointing to Halifax as a success story. Our mild-mannered city has struck "fear in the heart of the fragrance industry," the head of the Virginia-based Fragranced Products Information Network was quoted as saying. "Halifax has been able to do what the Federal Drug Administration, the European Commission and other regulatory agencies have been unable to do."

That’s because regulatory agencies make decisions based on fact; whereas Halifax gets hexed by hysteria. We’re a bunch of wimps. Is there none among us who has a backbone?

Eastern Shore-Musquodoboit councillor Steve Streatch had a spine when he stood on Feb. 1 to oppose a motion to expand the municipality’s scent-free workplace policy to include public areas such as council chambers and meeting rooms. "I’m getting a little tired of people telling me, or trying to tell me what I can or can’t do," he said.

But odour activists managed to remove Streatch’s backbone, and he apologized for the comments a week later. The surgery was unnecessary, because the motion had already passed, and the quiet public was subjected to yet another scent-free policy. A few councillors had successfully played the guilt card. Fragrances make people sick, they said with certainty. Fact, reason, and science were notably absent from the debate.

Fortunately, Fumento included them in his article, noting a cognitive psychologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia said there’s a lack of evidence to show fragrances are having an adverse effect. Researchers have discovered, however, that people can become more sensitive by thinking and talking about fragrances. And on the flip side of human psychosis, studies show people with reported sensitivity to a certain chemical didn’t react to it when the odour was masked.

Fumento admits people "can be allergic to a given ingredient or collection of ingredients in fragrances. But some 3,000 different chemicals have been identified in fragrances, which makes for an almost infinite number of possible combinations. So the only thing all fragrances have in common is that they’re fragrant. To be allergic to all of them is like being allergic to everything beginning with the letter F."

I met a woman who believes she’s allergic to the colour red, so I have no doubt people can convince themselves of anything. Haligonians are particularly adept at it. But perfume is funnelled into schools in Japan, so why are we such a hotbed?

Because we give in to whiners and complainers. We don’t want to offend anyone. Instead, we allow them to offend us. But if my Lady Speed Stick has turned my pits into lethal weapons, please tell me what damage I’ve done. A little proof would be appreciated, because without it, I refuse to admit guilt.