Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Kicking up a stink

So I get back from The International Conference Against Prohibition, pick up a copy of The Metro at Gatwick Airport and what do I spy?

Thousands banned from using perfumes at work

Thousands of civil servants could kick up a stink after being warned by bosses not to wear strong perfumes or aftershaves—to avoid costly legal action.

The Metro has jumped the gun a little here. For its online edition the headline has been changed to the more subdued, but more accurate:

Please don't wear perfume, Detroit tells workers

City employees in Detroit are being urged not to wear perfume or deodorant—after a lawsuit from an employee who couldn't stand her colleague's perfume.

This is the case of Susan McBride, who has successfully sued her employer on the basis that she has Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) and that...

... her colleague not only wore a strong scent but also plugged in a room deodoriser which forced her to go home sick.

The trouble is that Multiple Chemical Sensitivity doesn't exist. No serious physician or scientist believes otherwise. MCS is a rather unusual 'disease' since it only seems to affect middle-aged, middle class women, mainly in North America. These are the same kind of people who believe they are "allergic" to tobacco smoke (a biological impossibility).

As I discussed in Velvet Glove, Iron Fist, it started in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I quoted Dr Ronald House of St Michael's Hospital (Toronto):

"The uproar is fascinating from a cultural view. But it isn't good medicine, it's folly—political pandering to a few rather strident activists." (p. 343)

Sound familiar?

And yet this woman won her lawsuit, largely because the City of Detroit was foolish enough to cave in to the "rather strident activists" in 2005, when Erin Weber won a similar lawsuit (also in Velvet Glove). And The Metro may well be right when it says that employers will bring in workplace bans on perfume for fear of litigation. This is precisely what happened with secondhand smoke long before the EPA produced its infamous junk meta-analysis, and where America leads, the UK follows.

And speaking of strident activists, The Metro published this letter yesterday:

Smoke out abusers

I simply can't let Steve Lustig's diatribe against Duncan Bannatyne for saying children were being abused by smokers (Metro, Fri), go unchallenged. He thinks it is 'an insult to the victims of genuine abuse' to lump them with victims of smoking parents.

How very quaint. I am 58 years old, yet I am still traumatised by the memory of my father lighting up in the car throughout my childhood, despite pleas from my two younger sisters and I to refrain. His lighting up war invariably followed by all three of us throwing up. The callous disregard from the long-term damage caused by secondary smoking) he inflicted in the pursuit of his selfish pleasure simply beggars belief. And yes, I call that abuse.

By all means smoke yourself into an early grave if that's what lights your fag end. But do it without imposing it on others. Duncan is a true hero.

Costas Andrew Cleater

This guy's father lit up in a car "throughout [his] childhood" and this was "invariably followed by all three of us throwing up"? That's a lot of throwing up, and a very heartless father. You have to wonder how much this story has been embellished over the years, or whether it's true at all. Presumably this fellow would have been happier if he had had the power to turn his father over to the police, as Bannatyne is demanding.

(There's an interesting Channel 4 documentary about Multiple Chemical Sensitivity—including a woman who thinks she's allergic to her own hair—here: Allergic to the 21st Sensitivity.)

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