Smell-O-Phones; A fragrance coming VERY near you and your lungs

April 16th, 2007

I can think of fewer products which  are more counter-productive to market than cell phones which spray perfume in your face.  Cell phones are designed for speech and fragrances reduce lung function.  That is why sensible  singers and choral groups avoid them.     The incorporation of these toxic and mostly untested fragrance chemicals within every product on the market today is nothing short of criminal.  Fragrance ingredients are protected under trade secret laws and do not appear on labels.  This means the products are sold without informed consent by those buying them.   Below, is the letter I sent to two cell phone companies who may be marketing these products in the near future. . .

Sent to Samsung and Motorola corporations:

I recently read a press release indicating your company is working on a model of cellphone that emits perfume or synthetic fragrances.  The purpose of this email is to inform you that such a move may incur an increase in liability on the part of your firm and do a great disservice to your consumer base.  This advance in your technology is based upon the incorrect premise that ‘fragrance’ is composed of benign chemical ingredients. There are thousands of materials potentially incorporated into the product lines called “fragrances”.  Vendors are permitted to use that label, without further clarification, under the provisions of our “trade secret” laws.  Comprehensive labeling of marketed products is not required, forcing the public to rely upon its more astute consumers to arrive at these important conclusions  regarding adverse health effects.  These observations have since been borne out by numerous studies and their effects upon portions of the population have been delineated.  

Your American consumer base is comprised of huge numbers of asthmatics and migraine sufferers.  Asthma, according to statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in 2004, afflicts 20.5 million persons.  Some of the relevant statistics are summarized here: The incidence of asthma in women exceeds that of males by 68 percent.  Women are a group more likely to be attracted to the new technology you are considering but are also at greater risks for respiratory tract irritation or exacerbation of existing injury from fragrances.  The majority of asthmatics report fragrance as a trigger for attacks, triggers being events which incite the respiratory tract inflammation which leads to distress and even death. Asthma costs the American public over 16 billion dollars annually in direct health care costs and lost productivity from employee absenteeism. Your own company has to be adversely impacted from this common illness. An even greater number of Americans suffer from migraines and a significant number also report fragrance as a trigger for headache onset. These are vascular events, showing the multi-system effects of fragrances upon the exposed population. 

Thousands of different chemicals are used by the fragrance industry. Most have been inadequately assessed for their effects with assessment often limited to required measures of skin reactivity or irritant value.  The European Commission has an impressive listing of chemicals involved in fragrances at this site: The following, brief listing of chemical ingredients in a small pool of fragranced products was obtained by an EPA study conducted in 1992 (text at the link below).  It is unfortunate that they couldn’t simply call the manufacturers and obtain a full listing, instead conducting an independent laboratory analysis.

Compounds Identified – Confirmed: ethanol, camphene, Beta-pinene, Beta-myrcene, benzaldehyde, limonene, benzyl alcohol, Beta-phenethyl alcohol, citronellal, camphor, benzyl acetate, estragole, Alpha-cedrene, Alpha-pinene, diethylene glycol mnoethyl ether, linalool Alpha-terpineol, Beta-citronellol

Unconfirmed constituents requiring more advanced analysis included toluene and t-butanol.  Many among this collection of aldehydes, ketones, ethers, petrochemicals etc., are known to have toxic properties.  In combination with one another, they act differently than the manner in which they were studied.   Additive and synergistic effects result, unanticipated by regulatory agencies.  In other words, you don’t know precisely how your customers will be affected by your new product line.

Fragrances are now ubiquitous in the environment, introduced into most cleaning and laundry products, cosmetics and personal care items, air fresheners etc.  The addition of more emissions from cell phones would simply add to the already considerable amount of air pollution prevalent in our indoor environments. The EPA notes that indoor air contains two to five times the amount of volatile organic compounds than outdoor air. US buildings tend to be tightly sealed, with little or no fresh air being pumped through ventilation systems.

Lastly, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) cites that 20 percent of Americans, between 40 and 50 million persons, have been diagnosed with allergies.  This sixth leading cause of chronic health problems in this country costs more than six billion dollars annually.

Anaphylaxis is a very real danger for many people.  Is it really wise to have chemicals being emitted from devices held against the face for direct inhalation?  Many phones are placed in people’s pockets where the residues will be absorbed into clothing as well.  The perfumes will also effect persons who have not made the choice to have a scented cell phone in their possession, much like second-hand smoke in its potential for harmful effects upon bystanders.  The potential for customers to develop allergies and sensitivities as a result of purchasing these phones are also a very real possibility.  As it is, the incorporation of latex rubber into cell phone key pads results in many potential users being denied access to cellular technology.  Up to six percent of Americans have latex allergies.

There is a strong potential for your new product to become a heavy liability to the company and detract from its main purpose – a means of enhancing quality of life through ease of communication access.  I sincerely hope you will rethink the continued research and development of this new phone as a potential hazard to your consumers and corporate profits.

Thank you for your attention.

Barbara Rubin

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