The Free Market Economy Requires Freedom of Information

July 2nd, 2010

or Must We File A FOIA Request to Go Shopping?

This post began with an ad for perfume. For infants.

The fragrance industry has been under scrutiny by various consumer watch-dog groups given the fact that they are not subject to FDA regulatory oversight for product safety. Nonetheless, some fragrance chemicals have been identified as reducing lung function, disrupting hormonal levels, affecting the function of various organs and central nervous system activity etc. A summary of adverse effects upon users and secondary ‘consumers’ passively inhaling these chemicals can be found here:

It is to be assumed – as with smoking – that consumers would take care in selecting the safest among such products for personal use and to minimize imposing unwanted contact with them upon co-workers, family and friends. Many workplaces now request employees not use ‘plug-in’ air fresheners emitting these chemicals into the air on a constant basis. Some landlords request that scented candles and incense not be burned inside their rental units as chemical absorption into sheet rock and carpets might discourage future potential occupants from renting those units.

Until such time as the industry chooses to offer full disclosure of each product’s ingredients, the wisdom of the selections made by consumers remain unconfirmed in fact. Of course, advertising continues to bombard the public with urgent messages that our health is in danger if we don’t spray fragranced disinfectants all around us. Our social standing is dependent upon the scents and colorants added to our personal care products from hair dyes to moisturizing lotions. Our mental health cannot be optimized unless chemicals imitating the odors of flowers, spices or ‘fresh air’ are floating about our homes, schools and offices.

When this ad came to my attention recently, I was simply amazed to see even the suggestion that the smell of fruit – when paired with the activities of caring for an infant or child – will lead to increasingly loving memories of that time once it is past. The scent is to be applied to the child instead of the nursery or care-giver. Interestingly, directions are given to apply the perfume to the clothing because application to the skin might ‘importune’ the child, even though efforts were made to ‘minimize’ potentially allergenic content.

The company marketing this product is based in Canada but markets extensively throughout the USA. I sent the following letter to Health Canada and the FDA with copies to pediatric physicians and the American Lung Association. Turning infants into consumers of perfume for parental enjoyment and the imprinting of memories is simply something that does the entire system of marketing in these two countries a great disservice. To all of you ‘consumers’ reading this blog, I encourage you to assist our corporations in making their best choices among the products they sell by speaking to them directly with your comments and indirectly (but most powerfully) with your consumer dollars. Patronize companies offering full disclosure of ingredients, particularly when buying products which will directly or indirectly affect children. We shouldn’t be playing Russian Roulette with our children given recent statistics on the incredible rates of chronic illness and learning disabilities among these most precious of our natural resources. Patents protect businesses from having their formulas hijacked by competitors. Trade ‘secrets’ merely keep consumers in the dark while competitors ferret out the information through laboratory analysis.

We should just ask for the information or consider buying from those willing to share it openly on labels or MSDS sheets. It makes no sense to buy a product that is supposed to enhance our life-styles but which interferes with life processes – our bodies – instead. Further consumer dollars merely make their way into the coffers of physicians and pharmaceutical companies while we combat the side effects of our adopted ‘life-styles’. It is the work of a moment to look at a package and see if it offers full disclosure of ingredients.

Take that moment and transform our economy into one of true capitalism in which informed consumers dictate which products deserve to be sold in our marketplaces and those needing to be changed or removed from our store shelves. That is a truly ‘free market’ philosophy. This is about a lot more than just perfume. For infants. However, there is no reason why we shouldn’t begin there. Here’s the letter:

To Whom It May Concern,

An advertisement for perfumes to be used on babies as young as one month of age, touts the emotional benefits to be found by mothers. The ad speaks of mothers finding satisfaction in later years by memories evoked by this scent being associated with the early years of care-giving.

The corporation is based in Quebec but markets throughout the United States as well:

As a retired developmental disabilities specialist, I find this to be of some concern. The perfume industry is not regulated in North America to the point of having to disclose ingredients for their products. We know from many sources that fragrances are rife with thousands of possible ingredients, of which a significant number have never been tested for the full range of their possible health effects. We do know that some fragrance chemicals cause reductions in lung function even for healthy adults; some are associated with central nervous system depression, endocrine disruption or may have have sensitizing/allergenic properties.

Instructions for using this product includes warnings not to ‘importune’ a baby by putting the solution directly onto skin but to apply it to baby’s clothing. Health statements appear saying that efforts were made to minimize allergenic ingredients but the only specific information offered is that the product contains no alcohol, parabens or colorants. Recent research from Germany cites measurements of emission from scented toys which exceed permitted concentrations for some ingredients by EU standards or have been banned.

I recommend that Health Canada and the USFDA review this advertisement and consider the manner in which it is advertised and health claims issued (does ‘importune’ mean ‘endanger’?). Since this fragrance is being advertised as beneficial to mothers, why apply it to a baby or their clothing where it will be inhaled by the infant even during periods of sleep when there is no contact with the parent? Do these chemicals come out in the wash so there are no cumulative effects increasing emissions over time and repeat applications?

We cannot know because the fragrance industry has no mandate to disclose ingredients to consumers or any government agency. This is problematic when very young children develop symptoms since they cannot act as informants to offer specific clues as to the nature of their ailments. If a registry of ingredients for all products directed for use on or around children exists, then pediatricians and parents could at least submit FOIA requests for information about possible sources of health problems arising around the same time as the use of a particular commenced in a household.

Given our current state of knowledge about known and potential toxicity/allergenicity effects of some fragrance constituents, it is only sensible to have such a registry. Fragrances are added to many products intended for use on children including skin lotions and medicants, toys, laundry products and room disinfectants etc. Improved access to possible sources of developing problems so common in childhood such as asthma and allergies, can only assist the fragrance industry in better designing its products for that targeted consumer groups. At the same time, it addresses issues pertaining to public health.

Thank you for your attention.

Barbara Rubin

Categories: Letters

Tags: , , , Leave a comment

Comments Feed2 Comments

  1. Lawrence Plumlee M.D.

    It’s good to hear an independent voice of reason in a world which is so controlled by advertising that most people never question whether corn syrup or perfumes or formaldehyde in wall board or paraffin candles or wireless routers wi-fi are good for health.

  2. agasaya

    Thank you for your comment, Dr. Plumlee. I know you are a long-time advocate of regulation for toxic chemicals. It is going to have to be the consumer who makes timely changes that legislation normally requires decades to achieve. Therefore, full disclosure of ingredients on all marketed products is an urgent need for all concerned citizens.

    Barbara Rubin

Leave a comment

Feed / The Free Market Economy Requires Freedom of Information