SPEIAC Perspective On Scent Reduction Policies
Some workplaces, schools and public institutions have considered the introdution of scent-reduction policies. Such policies are perceived
to benefit the health of a small number of people who say they find scent offensive, however, these policies also affect the majority of Canadians
who enjoy the use of scent.
In order to arrive at a responsible, educated perspective on the issue, the Scented Product Education and Information Association of Canada
commissioned arms-length research to assist in understanding the motivation behind scent-reduction policies; to determine the opinion
of medical authorities on the health risk posed by scented products; and to evaluate the effectiveness of scent-avoidance strategies.
2. The Trend to Scent-Reduction Policies
Environmental sensitivity (ES) also known as multiple chemical sensitivity, total allergy syndrome and by other names appears
to be the catalyst for a growing trend toward no-scent policies in work and public places. Based on an extensive review of the literature,
there appears to be general consensus that people who say they suffer from MCS believe they are sensitive to a wide range of chemicals at
levels far below what would affect the vast majority of people.
(It is important to note that environmental sensitivity is separate and distinct from both true allergies and instances of measurable exposure
to known environmental contaminants, usually resulting from an accident or negligence.)
People who think they have MCS claim to experience many different symptoms and there is a diverse variety of common, everyday substances
which they believe trigger these symptoms everything from aftershave to newsprint, dry-cleaned clothes, diesel fumes, upholstery fabrics,
carpeting, and building materials.
One of the most common strategies for managing MCS is to avoid the substances and environments, which are believed to trigger symptoms. The
introduction of workplace and institutional scent-reduction policies is usually in response to people who believe they have MCS and who say
they cannot function properly in environments, which contain scent. The request for a scent-reduction policy is often accompanied by concerns
about other perceived contaminants in the work environment.
3. The Medical Perspective
There is no question that the segment of the population who say they are sensitive to many of the materials in everyday life suffer from
distressing symptoms. Their distress is genuine and they require medical attention. But the question remains: What do they suffer from and
what is helpful treatment?
3.1 No Identifiable Physical Cause
Based on extensive studies of the available research, the American Medical Association, the American Medical Council on Scientific Affairs,
the American College of Physicians, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma
and Immunology have all rejected MCS as a legitimate organic disease.
Most Canadian authorities have not taken a position on MCS, apparently due to their desire for more well-designed, definitive research.
There is a growing body of evidence that links many of the symptoms of the MCS phenomenon to anxiety and panic disorders. This does not in
any way minimize the fact that these people are in genuine distress and require health care. But this growing evidence does have important
implications for effective treatment. The bottom-line is the medical community simply dont know what MCS really is and, therefore,
what causes it. Consequently, current treatments, including substance avoidance strategies, are generally considered experimental.
3.2 More Harm Than Good
Substance avoidance strategies, including scent-reduction policies, often lead to increasing isolation and a deteriorating quality-of-life
for people who believe they have MCS. However, there does not appear to be any sound evidence that avoidance strategies improve their health.
On the contrary, when particular substances are removed from a sufferers environment, sensitivities frequently continue and are often
attributed to other triggers in their environment. For example, in Marin County, California an apartment building was constructed for people
who believe they have MCS to eliminate as many potential irritants as possible. However, a majority of those who moved into the building continued
to suffer distress.
Given the multiplicity of substances that may trigger symptoms, it is questionable whether restricting the use of any single type of product
will make a difference to the physical health of those suffering from MCS. It is also possible that such avoidance strategies may do more harm
4. Scent and Safety
Scented products are regulated by Health Canada which has the authority to protect the public if any product or ingredient is determined
to be unsafe. The industry has a long history of working cooperatively with Health Canada to ensure the safety of scented products.
For example, the Healthy Environments and Consumer Safety Branch (HECSB) of Health Canada works with the Cosmetic
Ingredient Review (CIR) Panel in the U.S. which is an internationally recognized body. Both CIR and HECSB periodically review the health
and safety of cosmetic ingredients, including fragrances and scented personal care products. These reviews are made available publicly and
are used as the basis for determining whether ingredients are safe and should be used.
As well, Health Canada's regulation for listing ingredients on personal care product packaging will come into force November 2006. This initiative
is fully supported by the cosmetic and toiletries industry. One of the benefits of ingredient labelling is that it will allow consumers to
identify which products contain fragrance materials and which do not. Further, the industry will work with a health professional, on request,
to help identify if there is an ingredient issue for a consumer with regard to a particular product.
5. The Social Perspective
Fragrances have been enjoyed for thousands of years and contribute to peoples individuality, self-esteem and personal hygiene. Indeed,
at the other end of the spectrum from the MCS phenomenon, there are an increasing number of people who are turning to alternative medicine,
including aromatherapy, to enhance their health and sense of well-being.
For example, many hospitals and medical clinics offer aromatherapy to patients receiving cancer treatment or diagnostic tests, to help manage
anxiety, calm nausea and assist sleep.
Our society must be careful not to confuse dislikes with diseases. We all have dislikes and people may have strong reactions even
physical reactions to things they dislike. This does not mean they have a disease.
At the same time, people should be considerate about their use of fragrance.
It is important to ask whether the majority of Canadians who enjoy scented products should be required to stop using them without credible,
medical evidence demonstrating that they pose a significant, physical health hazard.