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My right, your right

Years ago no-one knew that smoking was bad for bad for  your health, and people smoked everywhere. Then research was done that showed the clear correlation between smoking and disease, and laws were passed to limit smoking. The discovery that “passive smoking” could be just as harmful to health tightened those laws.

The tobacco industry fought these moves at every step, and it’s still fighting. At first their argument was that the science that showed smoking led to disease wasn’t 100% certain. When that argument could no longer hold up they shifted ground and declared smoking to be an issue of individual rights and individual freedom of choice.

Some feel that fragrance is at the beginning of a similar journey. In some parts of the world, the dangers to health of fragrance are so well-recognised that the products are banned from use in public places.

Googling “fragrance ban” or “fragrance health concerns” will take you to many stories about these initiatives. In the US more and more municipal authorities are banning fragranced products: Detroit City, Minnosota educational institutions, Cecil College ( Maryland) and Portland State University are all some of the many fragrance-free workplaces. In Santa Cruz, California, the municipality has banned the wearing of fragranced products at public meetings. At Marin County in California, restaurants now offer “fragrance-free” areas for customers.

In Canada, Halifax, Nova Scotia, has a policy of “no scents makes good sense” and discourages the wearing of fragranced products in municipal office, libraries, hospitals, classrooms, courts and buses.

49 municipalities in Gothenburg, Sweden, are considering banning the wearing of fragranced products in all hospitals in the region. An estimated 6% of the Swedish population is sensitive to fragrance and suffer allergic reactions.

In many case these bans are a response to successful lawsuits brought by people whose ability to work or study is compromised by other peoples’ fragrance - “second-hand fragrance”. As in the case of tobacco, breathing someone else’s perfume is not a choice.  A person can choose to eat organic food, but you can't choose not to breathe your colleague's fragrance. 

Fragrance, like tobacco, is a high-profit industry. Not surprisingly, the fragrance industry opposes regulation or limitation, arguing that its own procedures ( see “who does the tesing?) are enough of a safeguard.

Consumers are under pressure to smell of fragrance.  Ads appeal to young people ( especially boys) who may be self-conscious about their bodies are want to be sexually attractive. They appeal to older women, promising an aura of sophistication and luxury.  They appeal to younger women with suggestions of  spring flowers and the freshness of youth.  Men are encouraged to use colognes and fragrances shaving products to give off a virile aroma. The advertising pressure is relentless, because the profit margin is enormous.

Banning fragrance is one way to deal with the flood of fragrance into the environment, but it's hard to police.  The general population is still blissfully unaware of the health risks of fragrance, so a ban on its use strikes them as overkill.

Once people are aware that their own health, as well as the comfort and health of other people, is being affected by their choice to wear fragranced products, they can make a different choice.  As for tobacco, it's all about awareness and knowledge.  

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