Scent Censoring Incenses

By Shaune MacKinlay

The Daily News, April 16, 2000
Copyright 2000 by the Daily News

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An 84-year-old Halifax woman didn’t look the type to be ejected from City Hall. Her offence: a dab behind the ear with her favourite perfume.

Probably the first person to be kicked out of the building for wearing fragrance in its 112-year history, she was too overcome with shame to discuss what happened when a pesticide opponent detected her offending scent at a council meeting last month.

"I don’t want to talk about it, because it was really my own fault," she said when contacted by The Daily News.

While she may consider herself the author of her own misfortune, others would call her a victim of Halifax hysteria. Our happy hamlet is leading the way in banning perfumes and all matter of scented products.

The national press has taken note, as have The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and most recently American Spectator magazine, in a feature-length piece by professional debunker Michael Fumento ("Scents and Senselessness," The American Spectator, April 2000).

Stop stinkin’ up da place wich yer perfume, why dontcha?

Nowhere, he wrote, is the "holy war" on scent raging as it is in Halifax. Fumento is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a Washington, D.C., think-tank.

Shrinking Penises

Fumento thinks scent-sensitive Haligonians are in the grips of a mania, not a genuine physiological response to chemicals in their environment. He points to a mania that has at various times shown up in Asia and Africa, which leads men to believe their penises are shrinking, or even disappearing.

"You can get a lot stranger than forbidding all fragrances, you really can. This is Halifax’s mania," Fumento said in a telephone interview Friday.

While he acknowledges components of some fragrances can be the source of allergies or act as an asthma trigger, he said the response in Halifax - including widespread no-scent policies in workplaces, schools and hospitals prohibiting everything from scented deodorant to strong mouthwash - is totally out of proportion to the problem.

Just ask Marilyn Pellerin, fragrance manager at Mills Brothers on Spring Garden Road. She said she’s tired of people walking in off a street where auto emissions are part of the fresh air only to leave when they see the perfume counter.

"Fragrances are an easy target; you can tell if someone is wearing fragrance," she said.

The 1990s saw the birth of a chemical phobia that has swept the city, she said. "I know there are people out there whose immune systems are so compromised they can’t handle anything, but stopping fragrance for everybody else doesn’t seem to be the answer," Pellerin said.

It comes as no surprise to Dr. Roy Fox, medical director of the Environmental Health Centre in Fall River, that Halifax is leading the way in the no-scent movement.

When he presented a paper in Edinburgh, Scotland, last year to the International Conference on Indoor Air Quality and Climate, the notion was treated as a novelty. Delegates were surprised to hear the policies sprang from the grassroots, Fox said.

Chemical Combinations

Fragrance makers are no longer making scents out of rose petals, he said. Instead, they rely on all kinds of chemical combinations. While he said those same chemicals can be found in any number of other things that could prove equally harmful to someone with environmental illness, scent-free policies are a good place to start improving the air we breathe.

Although there’s ample proof exposure to chemicals in perfume triggers reactions in people, he said, the bans haven’t relied on clinical evidence.

"Most people don’t like to hurt other people, and if they see other people suffering they like to know what they can do to help," he said.

That’s been the approach at Nubody’s gyms throughout metro. Owner Dean Hartman said leaving the scent home is a small thing patrons can do to make the gym a comfortable place for everyone.

"They’re not doing it just to be jerks," he said of people who can’t tolerate perfumes.

While people may think introducing scent-free policies is a nice thing to do, Fumento warns such an approach won’t help the problem.

"The more people who think they have this, the more people who think they have this. That’s what a mania is.

"One guy looks down between between his (legs) and says, ’My penis is shrinking,’ and the next thing you know, every male villager thinks his is shrinking as well."


Read Michael Fumento's Scents and Senselessness (The American Spectator, April 2000).