A couple months ago, as I was enjoying karaoke night at the local Legion, I received a fairly disturbing phone call from a close friend of mine. She sounded absolutely horrible, and I was shocked to find out that she had just returned from the hospital after a rather exhausting night.
My friend, a severe asthmatic, had suffered a massive attack and had to be rushed to the hospital after encountering a perfect storm of asthma triggers while her and her husband were going about their business that evening. It had began in an appliance store where a customer coming inside had wafted some cigarette smoke in with them. So began the wheezing and discomfort. The situation was further aggravated when my friend and her husband went for dinner and she went to use the bathroom, and another patron sprayed air freshener in the small space. Finally, in their local Wal-Mart, the smell of the cleaning supplies aisle set her right off and within minutes, she was struggling for air while her husband rushed her out the door so he could take her to the nearest hospital. She very nearly had to be intubated, as her airways had quite nearly closed all the way up. It had been an incredibly close call.
In the aftermath of this near-miss, the government department where my friend works took it upon themselves to implement a scent-free policy, in spite of the fact that the county had out-right refused to put one in place for its offices. My friend found herself a poster girl for the cause, in the position of having to go to each and every one of her co-workers, one on one, and explain her condition and why her very life depended on adherence to the scent-free policy. The reasoning behind this being that simply addressing the office as a group would allow too many people to not pay attention. I guess it’s easier to convincingly say “If you ignore this, I could die,” and have it stick when you’re up close and personal.
My friend’s case is fairly extreme one, but more and more workplaces are adopting scent-free policies and no wonder, as sensitivity to scent can have a lot of unpleasant, if not devastating, effects. My SO frequently meets me at the end of the cleaning aisle as the smell of the chemicals nauseates him. A former co-worker hung a sign on his office specifically asking the cleaning staff not to use cleaning chemicals in his office, due to migraines.
Over the years, so much public awareness and policy has gone towards minimizing smoking in public places, due to the harm it does not only to smokers but to those around them. In that vein, many work-places have started adopting “scent-free” policies and it’s something I’d like to see spread, at the very least to my own office. The other day a visitor came to speak to my boss and I’m pretty sure he brought the entire Axe factory with him. And although I normally have little to no scent issues, his wafting presence played havoc with the chest infection I’ve been battling this week.
The wide-spread use of perfumes, scented chemical cleaners, room fresheners, colognes is an issue that, for the health and safety of people like my friend above, I’d like to bring attention to, especially as it’s one that many people don’t consider as they go about their day-to-day lives. The friend mentioned above has begun writing to retail companies such as The Bay and Shoppers Drug Mart and other large department stores who, when designing their stores, arranged displays so that customers entering are forced to face the gauntlet of the cosmetic display area, complete with perfumes and colognes. The same friend above told me a story of going to a Shoppers Drug Mart to pick up a prescription for her asthma meds, only to find herself having to tear open the package for her inhaler after making her way to the pharmacy, located at the back of the store.
It would seem that restricting one’s right to wear perfume or cleaners would be a huge breach of personal freedoms, but to me it’s one of those “Your Rights End Where Mine Begin” situations. Some random person’s right to douse themselves in Old Spice or Chanel No. 5 ends where someone else’s right to venture into public spaces without having their health jeopardized begins. There is no situation I can think of where one persons health or liberty is put in danger by not wearing scent, or not having a public bathroom smell like some bastardization of a “ocean breeze”. Even smokers can argue the addictive properties of nicotine. Doesn’t apply here. What does apply here is Andie’s law of being a decent human being: “Other People Exist. Don’t Be An Asshole.”
So, how can you help and/or not be an asshole?
*Go Scent-free. Use unscented soaps and deodorants when possible. Don’t bother with perfume and cologne.
*If you are in a public place like a store or a restaurant that has a washroom supplied with aerosol air fresheners, leave a comment card or let the management know directly that air fresheners can be hazardous to some of their customers. There are “odor-eating” products that can be put in a toilet, a few drops at a time, that don’t put chemicals in the air. If these establishments implement these changes, keep going there, as they are not assholes.
*If you work in an office or with the public, try to encourage or implement a scent-free policy
*Use natural cleaners, like diluted vinegar. Barring that, use products labelled as fragrance-free where possible. It’s important to know the difference between Fragrance free and unscented. Something marked as Fragrance-free means that it was made without fragrances. Unscented products may use chemical compounds to mask their scent.
Cutting back on chemicals and scented products, in the long run, can only really do us well, in the long run.