Scent marketing is the latest trend from the mad men of the advertising world. This is many times worse than perfume department employees jumping out and spritzing you with the latest floral fashion. Methods range from stores putting fragrance into their air systems or spraying clothing and other products. It even affects junk snail mail! Ever notice yourself picking out an envelope from your mail and not knowing why you chose that one? Well, there’s scented paper too! Many products are adding scent by spraying it on or even embedding it in the manufacturing process: toilet paper, window shades, bank checks and many other products normally above suspicion. It’s aromatherapy gone wild!

So what is the problem with this marketing strategy you ask? Fashion is a choice, whether it’s visual or aromatic. It should never be forced on a person for many reasons. You just wanted that pretty shirt, but didn’t actually want the smell that came with it. You buy the now pre-scented clothing and have to go through the hassle of trying to get it out. If you are allergic this can pose a potentially serious health risk.

It can take 3 to 7 washings to truly remove chemical fragrance from laundry. For a person who just doesn’t want the unwanted smell this is an annoyance remedied by time and laundering. For the allergic, this imposes a health risk when they bring theirfragranced fashion find home. A person without an allergy will not detect the smell the same as someone who does. Therefore the problem with scent marketing is the potential health risk it imposes and the limitations it can set for some.

When scents are pumped through the air system, the smell gets on your hair and clothing and can be difficult to remove. People who are allergic and/or have lung conditions often have to avoid going to stores, hotels and yes, restaurants too that use scent marketing! Many times people will go into establishments and not realize why they are suddenly not feeling good. Well, if you were allergic to penicillin and unbeknownst to you it was being sprayed through the air system while you have dinner you would become ill. Same goes for fragrance. Scent marketing makes no sense when it comes to health.

Somehow allergies to medicine and shellfish are taken seriously, but not when it comes to something like fragrance. Let’s look a little deeper. What is an allergyIs it just a few annoying sneezes and itchy eyes? An allergic reaction is a damaging immune response by the body to a substance [i.e. bacteria, viruses, and substances that seem foreign and harmful]. Our immune system is our police force. Bad guys get in and our line of defense protects and destroys.

Since the immune system is very good at destroying cells it is important to avoid overexposure to substances harmful to the body. The body can overreact in trying to kill and push out harmful intruders and cause unwanted damage to itself [i.e. swelling, watery eyes, and sneezing, and even a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis where the throat swells shut]. Each year, allergies account for more than 17 million outpatient office visits and over 60 million people have asthma and allergies.

Allergic reactions are complicated if a person has an autoimmune disorder. This is a condition, which occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy body tissue. With this condition your body’s police force can’t tell the difference between the good guys and the bad ones. Often attacking its host distracts your immune system and the actual enemies are not caught as they start doing their damage. Sounds like rare condition, right? Nope, over 25 million Americans have an autoimmune disorder and Allergies strike 1 out of 5 Americans. That’s a significant amount of consumers, huh? There are more than 80 different types of autoimmune disorders. Some examples are Diabetes, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Multiple Scleroses and more.

This raises the question if fragrance allergies are a huge part of this crisis. More than 2 million Americans have fragrance allergies and the numbers are on the rise. It’s a tricky condition to diagnose initially because most people don’t realize fragrances are bothering them. In general the cause and effect method of determining an allergy is tricky because many times the body can give a delayed response. Fragrances used to be derived from natural sources and were not as harmful to as many people. But industries that use fragrance are choosing to use chemical options because they are cost-effective for the company.

The problem with fragrances is not solely an allergic one. Natural and chemical fragrances are irritants whether minor or major. Most often the fragrances used are chemically based which come from petroleum products. The potential effects are the same as working at a gas station. Exposure to those irritants are not limited to just a headaches. These hormone-disrupting chemicals are linked to a range of health effects including sperm damage, thyroid disruption and cancer. Your average household cleaning product is petroleum based yet you wouldn’t soak your clothes in it and then wear them because you know that would be unhealthy. So, why would you do the same with a laundry product that contains chemical fragrances?

The National Academy of Sciences reports that 95% of the chemicals used in fragrances today are synthetic compounds derived from petroleum, including known toxins capable of causing cancer, birth defects, central nervous system disorders and allergic reactions. When exposed to chemical fragrances, it takes only 26 seconds for traces to deposit in every organ of the body. These chemicals go directly into the blood stream when applied to our skin, and are also absorbed into the skin from our clothing.

A report by the President’s Cancer Panel recommends that pregnant women and couples planning to become pregnant avoid exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals due to potential birth defects and cancer concerns. This means avoiding laundry products that are not free and clear of perfumes, plug-in air fresheners and anything for your home or body that has a scent added.

Now of course the government is regulating these products? No, the industries that utilize these chemical substances are self-regulating. This is potentially dangerous because their focus is to make money with their product to as many consumers as possible. Their biggest concern is that the product sells and they are not as concerned about the people who cannot use the products due to health issues. The industry will claim that the amount contained is with in safe limits. What they are not factoring in is consumer usage. Multiply the amount of exposures of each product containing chemicals combined with exposures in places using scent marketing and the limits are exceeded.

The problem is that there are many people who don’t know they are using a product that is harmful to them. Also, because the chemical ingredients are harmful in general there are a growing number of customers who will not be able to use these products. This exposure problem is not limited to the purchaser alone because there is a secondhand issue. Anne Steinemann, Ph.D., professor of civil and environmental engineering and professor of public affairs at the University of Washington. “Secondhand scents are also a big concern. One person using a fragranced product can cause health problems for many others.”

Shouldn’t it be a person’s choice if they want to have fragrance put on them? Well, industries are making that choice near impossible. Eventually the consumer majority using fragranced products will swing the other way and fragrance-free will become the rage. The trouble is that industries will not take the responsibility until enough harm occurs and consumers are outraged. In the meantime, the best we can do to fight the machine is make companies aware of the negative affects from their products. In business, numbers count.

You can also write to corporations, the FDA and your congressmen and demand that establishments that use scenting machines have a warning sign at the front door. Just like food and medicines have to tell us what they contain by law so people can look out for their own safety, shouldn’t we be able to safeguard ourselves against other potentially hazardous exposures? If complaints outweigh accolades and safer products become more profitable for them, than change can occur. Consumers actually do hold they key.

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By Jazzmyn Banks