Perfume industry on the attack in Halifax

The province of Nova Scotia has become a battle ground in the war between fragrance makers and those who say scents make them sick.

On Tuesday, the Scented Product Education and Information Association of Canada (SPEIAC) -- which represents the cosmetics, perfume and toiletries industries -- launched a month-long campaign aimed at clearing up what it calls perfume "myths and misinformation."

The group chose Halifax for the campaign because the city launched a "no-scent encouragement program" in 1996, urging people not to wear fragrances to help reduce illness and discomfort suffered by those with scent allergies or asthma.

The city does not have a ban or by-law against fragrance, as many news sources erroneously reported earlier this year when a Halifax student was suspended from school for wearing scent.

The perfume industry says the anti-scent campaign is a bad one. "The anti-scent policies -- both formal and informal -- that are prevalent in the Halifax area appear to be based on an appalling lack of factual information," SPEIAC spokesman Carl Carter told a news conference Tuesday.

But that's not the way Betty Bridges sees it. She's a nurse from Virginia who suffers from Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) and worries about the chemicals used to make scented products. She says the ingredients are no longer natural, but are made with carcinogens and irritants.

"A lot of these chemicals are absorbed into the body. They are stored in fat tissue. They are found in breast milk."

The industry disputes that. They say evidence shows there is no danger from fragrance products. Charles Low is with the Canadian Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association. He says scents are safe but people who wear perfumes or aftershave should use them sparingly.

"Our message is that people need to be responsible in their use of fragrances and scented products so as not to give offence," Low says.

Low says the idea is to keep smells within what he calls a "personal scent circle." That means not wearing anything that someone can get a whiff of more than an arm's length away.

That notion is lost on Albert Donnay who supports the restrictions.

"Everybody knows when they get into an elevator with somebody who put too much perfume on this morning, the perfume stays behind when that person gets off the elevator. There is no such thing as a scent circle. It's a scent trail."

Donnay says that trail includes chemicals and irritants that are not just "offensive" to some Canadians. They make them sick.