Sniff, sniff, sniff is big business It goes far beyond selling perfumes and deodorants that people buy to use on themselves. The business of odoriferous alteration or manipulation of products and environments that interact with people is spreading fast. I noticed just how pervasive this diffusion of smells has become when a cab driver told me he regularly squirts on aerosol freshener in his taxi. That became so pungently clear to me that I reached for a Kleenex which, lo and behold came with an applied fragrance.
Now comes a letter from Valerie Plezia of Cleveland, Ohio that really drives the burgeoning trend home. Her communication bears quoting: “Dear Mr. Nader:
“Have you noticed recently that every item that you purchase is scented? I think this is very ridiculous and in many cases — harmful to people who are allergic to fragrances.” Now the scenting of food has become a fad You cannot find a Supermarket in the Cleveland area that doesn’t shoot out a perfumy air-freshener through their ventilating system and cause all their merchandise, including perishables, to smell like strong perfume. I have eaten a half-loaf of bread which didn’t look moldy but it had a very strange taste. Isn’t insecticide enough? Must we now eat perfumed foods?
“Cleveland’s Supermarkets are now open 16 or 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. They have no time to clean their meat and vegetable counters, so they mask the air with air-fresheners.
“The buses we ride also shoot air-fresheners at their riders, and that smells like carbolic acid.
“Every part of an auto or van is also heavily scented The scent is baked into the paint job and into the plastics. The chemicals in the fragrances cause nausea.” One cannot go to a concert or a school or a hall which has Mother Nature’s pure air. Everywhere you go, you are sprayed with air fresheners. Please do something before perfume is put into our gas, electric and water.”
She might have added that artificial smells are added to greeting cards, stationery, fabric softeners, cleaning materials, paints, medicines and in some printer’s ink for magazine or brochure pictures. A photograph of a rose can smell like a rose.
There are many dollars in the business of scents — about one and a half billion a year. The commercial caressing of the olfactory organ is drawing on the findings of recent science about how odors affect human temperments and behavior. The smell alteration industry has learned that most people can detect at least 4000 distinct odors, with some sharp noses able to recognize up to 10,000. While human noses are crude compared to those of many insects and animals, including the family dog, even 4000 smells offer quite an inventory for profitable exploitation.
Scientists believe that many odors that escape people’s sensory awareness can produce changes in their bodies. Even tiny traces of odors floating into a room can produce changes in blood pressure, respiration and heart rate. Depending on the fragrance, some people become happier and friendlier.
An article (‘Secret Scents That Affect Behavior”) by Lowell Ponte in the Reader’s Digest three years ago observed that certain odors could be used “as an aerosol during political rallies or as a fragrance in the ink of campaign literature to make a candidate seem more attractive.”
Ponte reported that the rapidly advancing science of scents could soon raise the possibility of undesirable biochemical manipulation and control. biologist Robert Henkin of Georgetown University Medical Center says that Russian scientists are using selected odors to reduce worker anxiety and stress. Henkin projects that some day odors may be used to increase efficiency in factories reduce levels of aggression in prisons and increase students desire to learn from a fragrant textbook.
In the meantime, the “scentists” in the marketplace are not waiting for the scientists in the laboratory. There is plenty of pollution, cigarette smoke, decaying organic matter and other odors that can be overwhelmed, at least temporarily and profitably, by aerosol fresheners Arid there are even more sensory stimulants awaiting the fantasy that such scents can tickle.
None of this fosters authentic practices which might otherwise clean up the causes of these apparent discomforts that invite the aerosol solution. But that would be real behavior by a free, unbeguiled people — and not good for the gross national corporate product.