Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Re-post of Fragrance: The New Secondhand Smoke?

Fragrance: The New Secondhand Smoke? April 21, 2008 by fragrancefighters

Do you remember when cigarette smoking was
typical on an airline flights?

I had my first airplane trip when I was five. My excitement quickly changed when the noxious cloud of cigarette smoke affected the dynamics of my plane trip. Back then I didn’t realize how much I would grow to hate hearing the flight attendant announce “the Captain has turned off the no-smoking signs and you are free to smoke.” It seemed as if the entire plane lit up. My allergy to cigarette smoke became immediately apparent. When we arrived in Montego Bay from Chicago International I had a headache, was nauseous and had eyes that burned non-stop. Mind you, I was very young, so youthful energy and excitement helped me to rebound the very next day. However, I’d already learned a hard lesson about myself and my sensitivities; and a harsh lesson about travel in that era. I knew that I was going to be sick for the entire trip home while people smoked on the plane. For the next twenty plus years I had to endure both cigarette smoke and the resulting illness when traveling by air. And it got more and more difficult to recover each and every trip. Back then either no one knew or openly admitted the dangers of exposure to secondhand smoke on airplanes. (Nan says: The cigarette companies knew. This was a case of an entire planet’s population choosing to live in denial!) Now, few doubt and even less protest when confronted with evidence on the damage secondhand smoke has on the lungs, heart, and brain and so on.

As I began working in the mid-70s the same challenge arose. I suffered daily in the workplace. People smoked in almost any public place, and there were no restrictions in most places of employment. In the early 80′s I worked in a crime lab in the Midwest (data entry; nothing like CSI on TV). I worked the midnight shift, mainly in the enclosed, intensely-air-conditioned-to-the-point-of-freezing room trapped with cigarette smokers and their smoke. My first job in Los Angeles was also at a small company doing data entry. Sometimes I would come to work with a gas mask provided by a firefighter (and that’s a blog for another day)! I wanted to make my point. By then, I was becoming less and less able to tolerate cigarette smoke. When I made my first break into “Corporate America” as a secretary at 24 years old, I hoped things would be different. Not really! Cigarette smokers were everywhere. It seemed each day provided a challenge.

When the “Big Boss” would come in from the corporate office in New York things would worsen; he didn’t smoke cigarettes, he smoked cigars. I quickly learned that when exposed to cigar smoke in close range, my usual headaches became migraines, and my nausea went straight into vomiting. After he’d made several trips to LA, this became intolerable. I was taking sick time off in order to avoid dealing with cigar smoke! What was worse–the five executives that I worked for were all afraid of him. I would have no advocates for change in that group.

That’s when I found that I had to stand up for myself. Though this wasn’t a complete skill set yet, I had learned a few scare tactics and psych moves along the way. I first asked if I could speak to him privately. As we went into an office I closed the door–and it’s an amazingly powerful statement for the boss when his subordinate initiates the closing of the door. (Nan says: Let’s hear it for those Jedi mind tricks!)

Back to the story… I told him every time he would come to our LA office and smoke his cigars I would have go home ill. I simply asked him not to smoke in the office. His reaction was surprising…and wonderful. “My wife makes me smoke outside~~ I’m not allowed in the house with them,” he said of his cigars. This man, my bosses were afraid to confront, was a cutie pie! Whew!!!!!

Needless to say, I was more than overjoyed when cigarette smoking was banned in the workplace in the 1990s. Now it’s banned in most public places in Southern California.

Fragrance is truly “new secondhand smoke.”

My friend Nancie and I have read quite a few blogs and articles describing fragrance as the “new secondhand smoke.” We’ve even mentioned it in this blog. I quote the United States Access Board’s Board Policy to Promote Fragrance Free Environments:

“There are many people who experience unpleasant physical effects from scented products, such as perfumes and colognes. However, there is a growing number of people who suffer more severe reactions to these and many other types of products and chemicals. This condition is known as multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS) and involves people who have developed an acute sensitivity to various chemicals in the environment. People with MCS experience a range of debilitating physical reactions, some even life-threatening, to chemicals used in a variety of products, including fragrances and personal care products, deodorizers and cleaners, pesticides, wall and floor coverings, and building materials.

Do you recognize the triggering agents and physical reactions?

It’s a complex issue with a variety of triggering agents and physical reactions. Different people are affected by different products in different ways. The common factor is that the reaction, whatever the type, is very strong and disabling. Information needs to be developed on exactly what brings about such an acute sensitivity to certain chemicals, how and why this happens, and what can be done about it.”

I didn’t know what to do during all those years of suffering due to secondhand smoke in the workplace. From my research, the challenge now exists with fragrances in the workplace, though many employers maintain a fragrance-free policy. As the world gets more and more toxic, more and more people are impacted by fragrances. Fragrance is everywhere. From cleaning products used in the workplace, schools, restaurants and public restrooms; to personal use in perfumes, lotions and hand soap. People in the workplace are not just bombarded by co-workers’ perfume, a plug-in air freshener used to mask other odors can be even more offensive. I generally work from home, but recently I had to go into my real estate office to pick up paperwork. I had to call ahead and have them unplug the air freshener. And it is always a challenge going to office meetings because of the mushroom cloud of fragrance that hangs in the air.

What is the Job Accommodation Network (JAN)?

If you are experiencing challenges in the workplace you can check out the Job Accommodation Network (JAN). JAN is a free consulting service designed to increase the employability of people with disabilities by providing information on individualized accommodations, providing technical assistance on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and information on self employment. Please see the article Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Fragrance Sensitivity by Tracie DeFreitas Saab, MS of the Job Accommodation Network at their website JAN can help accommodate employees with fragrance sensitivities, can provide examples of fragrance-free workplace policy statements and has other resources.

There is a contact page for employers that have established a fragrance-free environment seeking employees and also employees seeking fragrance-free environments at Please email us at if you are either.