What do tobacco smoke, fragrance chemicals, food, drugs, supplements, health food stores and incense have in common?

Tobacco smoke contains so many harmful chemicals causing health problems, that smoking has been banned from most public indoor environments. Work remains to be done in shared housing, where neighbours are forced to breathe in 2nd and 3rd hand smoke.

Since fragrances  also have  many harmful chemicals,  including too many  of the same chemicals found in tobacco smoke, they should also be banned from indoor environments. Well, (unless  certified organic), they should just be banned period  since they also pollute the outdoor air when expelled from dryer vents, and also pollute our  waterways.

Just like sitting in a smoky room for 10 minutes will make your hair and clothes smell like smoke, sitting in a fragranced room for 10 minutes will do the same. In fact, foods absorb smoke   and fragrance too, including those that can’t be washed (breads, salt, etc) and if you are attending a wine tasting event, you’re asked not to smoke or wear fragrances since they interfere with people’s ability to taste and smell.

Most fragrance chemicals weren’t designed to be eaten (although IFF would probably beg to differ ) and most of us certainly don’t want to be eating plastics, do we? Makes you wonder why phthalates  are found in drugs and supplements?    Especially since so much evidence is mounting regarding harm.

So what to do? One might assume that shopping for food, especially organic food, at health food stores (HFSs) would be safer. One would be thinking wrong if the HFS sell  fragranced products and  incense, which is linked to asthma, dermatitis,   and cancer,    and most HFSs do sell these products.

They don’t sell cigarettes, which are even triple wrapped despite not containing any VOC’s when unlit, yet the incense and other fragranced products are often unwrapped, or sold in flimsy plastic bags which do nothing to contain the VOCs, or keep them from migrating into other foods and products in the store.

I don’t know about you, but when I pay extra for organic foods, I don’t want them tasting like incense or other fragrance chemicals. I don’t want to be eating phthalates and BPA, so I avoid plastics, I don’t want to be breathing in the chemicals in tobacco smoke, yet buying food from most stores means these toxic chemicals are getting into the foods they sell.

Buying veggies and fruit from farmer’s markets,    CSA‘s    or organic delivery services usually eliminates this problem, but some warehouses have so-called air”fresheners”     or allow staff to use scented soaps   etc, which end up leaving residues on the food, and not all kinds of foods are available from these sources.

Food should not be kept in the same air space as these toxic chemicals. Volatile toxic chemicals should be sealed in impenetrable packaging as long as they are still legal. Stores that sell both food and items that contain volatile chemicals  should be required to separate the fragranced items from the foods, including using different ventilation systems.  It shouldn’t be so difficult for anyone, let alone those of us with a medical need,  to find safe, chemical and fragrance free foods.

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20 responses to “What do tobacco smoke, fragrance chemicals, food, drugs, supplements, health food stores and incense have in common?

  1. How can I get in touch with you, Linda?
    Can you write to my e-mail address?

  2. Amen! A lot of the problems are “eco’ people. In the beginning of my illness I thought people in the local Sierra Club would be understanding but with a couple of exceptions they were like airhead teenagers saying “I would hate to live like that” and a blank look on their faces about my concerns eg in the yoga movement(incense, pvs mats, etc) and health food stores(essential oils/natural(like) fragrances). Some said, oh I’ve heard of “you people”but we don’t know if you’re crazy. As they prepared to build their bonfire(burningissues anyone) I left. Plus many had clothes smelling of cigerettes, pot, Tideetc., The ones that were educated were catering to the eco fantasies of the others probably for money reasons. I saw an article by David Sasuki(I think that’s his name), a Canadian environmentalist, saying how disappointed he was in the movement. Hey, talk about disappointment-where is he on helping the environmentally ill? We’re the people that really care about the earth.

  3. Linda,
    Thanks for giving me a little optimism again. You’re great!

  4. Oh, exactly! Thank you for writing what I’ve been trying to tell people in my daily life. Yes, the incense and other fragrances are typically over the top in health food stores, so I can’t shop there at all (wicked migraines and incense tastes on the food). Also, yes, in supermarkets I’ve often bought foods in plastics that, later, I can’t eat. They taste like air fresheners or something. Also, my ability to smell the packaging properly, while in the store, is dulled. Only when I come home can I smell the chemicals more “loudly.” Thank you for this piece. I hope you don’t mind if I link to it on my MCS site. People need to know. And yes, they should separate foods from chemicals. Stay well.

    • I’d be honoured if you linked to it Carolyn. Thank you!

      I inserted a lot of helpful links into this post (but only figured out 1/2 way through that I could have them open in another page instead of straying from this one)

      This issue is not only affecting people with MCS, it affects everyone, especially those paying extra for organic foods, since these fragrance chemicals are not included in organic certification.

      My 1st experience with food that tasted like dryer sheets was with a bag of organic baby carrots. The supermarket had a dryer sheet sale on, the chemicals saturated everything in the store, and no amount of washing could remove them from the baby organic carrots. I had to stop eating supermarket food after that because from then on, I was so sentsitized, that anything from a store that carried them, tasted like dryer sheets.

  5. Well done, Linda!

    Opera and other “stage” events also often or usually require that the attendees are fragrance or scent-free because the chemicals in fragrances/scents (in any type of product) affects the ability of the performers in their performance. As well, sporting events such as hockey, often have signs posted against wearing perfumes, etc. because it affects performance of the players.

    The chemicals in fragrances are also very deleterious to those with asthma and with asthma rates sky-rocketing (particularly in children), one would think that parents would stop using such products, but, alas and alack, the majority don’t (and the information is out there where the public has access to it, so “I didn’t know” can’t be claimed with any real validity any longer).

    As I’ve mentioned over the years, I think the key to getting fragrance-use reduced in a sizeable or considerable way is going to be when we are able to get fragrances (in ALL products) out of the school systems. Once a school requires children are fragrance-free, their parents will change their products and, most likely, will use the same ones for their own clothing as they do for their children’s. (Most people can’t as easily dismiss a child with asthma as they can a grown-up with MCS. They would appear too cruel or uncaring and people are wired to “appear” to care for children’s health, whether they truly do care, or not.)

    Once this occurs, usage will drop not only in hospitals, schools and other events, but also in the work setting. It will also greatly reduce the impact on air quality in neighbourhoods from laundry pollution, in general.

    • Thank you LaVerne! You made a lot of good points.

      I think it was David Suzuki who made a comment about seeing how many SUV’s pulled up to a hospital emergency room with asthmatic children on a smog day.

      I find it sad that so many children are suffering and still there is resistance to improving air quality in schools. Scent “awareness” policies are not the same as fragrance-free policies.

      What is encouraging now, is how children’s health advocates are finally clueing in en masse about the dangers in fragrances. I just remembered a new video that came out very recently that I will post, since I figured out how to post a video here.

      It’s about 5 things people can do to make their homes child friendly, or healthy for children, and not surprisingly, doing those things will help everyone with MCS too!

  6. I’m looking for help with a letter that can be distributed to all natural/health food stores regarding incense.

    The study I linked to above points out how harmful incense is, so there’s no place for it in a store claiming to be healthier than conventional stores.
    (a paragraph about regular scented products being self-contained needs to be in the letter too)

    These are excerpts:

    A typical composition of stick incense consists of 21% (by weight) of herbal and wood powder, 35% of fragrance material, 11% of adhesive powder, and 33% of bamboo stick [15].

    Traditionally, incense burning usually involves three or more sticks simultaneously. It will take from 50 to 90 minutes to burn a stick of incense. When incense is burning, it emits smoke (fumes) containing particulate matter (PM), gas products and other organic compounds. Once the incense coating section has burned completely, the burning extinguishes itself at the tip of the bare bamboo part of the stick. The gas products from burning incense include CO, CO2, NO2, SO2, and others. Incense burning also produces volatile organic compounds, such as benzene, toluene, and xylenes, as well as aldehydes and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which mostly are absorbed on particle matter.

    In India, diethylphthalate is used extensively in the incense stick industry as a binder of perfumes. It can be emitted into the air during incense burning. Eggert and Hansen reported that DEP emission from various incense could be as high as 16,365 μg/m3 in concentration and 13,582 μg/unit of incense [56].

    Diethylphthalate (DEP), used as a plasticizer and a detergent base, is a suspect carcinogen.

    Like second hand smoke, pollutants emitted from incense burning in a close environment are harmful to human health. As mentioned above, particulate matters, and some of volatile organic compounds, musk ketones, musk xylenes, and musk ambrette, aldehydes, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, diethylphthalate (DEP) are toxic to the lung and allergenic to the skin and eyes.

    http://www.clinicalmolecularallergy.com/content/6/1/3

  7. Howdy, Linda. Dunno if anyone else has this problem but I can’t read your entry because of all the hyperlinks in it. The bright blue makes my head go wonky and I couldn’t get through more than a few lines of it before my brain cried, “Uncle!” LOL…

    • Yikes!

      That’s not how it looks to me.
      The text is all dark grey and the hyperlinks are underlined so they are barely visible unless I move the cursor over them, in which case they turn red.

      Does anyone else have that problem? Or know why it would look different to me? Or what could fix it? I’d find it difficult to read too if the colours were all different.

      Peter,
      I’ve copied and pasted the post into my reply here, it won’t have the links, which provide some great background info. Not sure if you get the whole reply by email if you signed up for that? Anyway, here it is again:

      Tobacco smoke contains so many harmful chemicals causing health problems, that smoking has been banned from most public indoor environments. Work remains to be done in shared housing, where neighbours are forced to breathe in 2nd and 3rd hand smoke.

      Since fragrances also have many harmful chemicals, including too many of the same chemicals found in tobacco smoke, they should also be banned from indoor environments. Well, (unless certified organic), they should just be banned period since they also pollute the outdoor air when expelled from dryer vents, and also pollute our waterways.

      Just like sitting in a smoky room for 10 minutes will make your hair and clothes smell like smoke, sitting in a fragranced room for 10 minutes will do the same. In fact, foods absorb smoke and fragrance too, including those that can’t be washed (breads, salt, etc) and if you are attending a wine tasting event, you’re asked not to smoke or wear fragrances since they interfere with people’s ability to taste and smell.

      Most fragrance chemicals weren’t designed to be eaten (although IFF would probably beg to differ ) and most of us certainly don’t want to be eating plastics, do we? Makes you wonder why phthalates are found in drugs and supplements? Especially since so much evidence is mounting regarding harm.

      So what to do? One might assume that shopping for food, especially organic food, at health food stores (HFSs) would be safer. One would be thinking wrong if the HFS sell fragranced products and incense, which is linked to asthma, dermatitis, and cancer, and most HFSs do sell these products.

      They don’t sell cigarettes, which are even triple wrapped despite not containing any VOC’s when unlit, yet the incense and other fragranced products are often unwrapped, or sold in flimsy plastic bags which do nothing to contain the VOCs, or keep them from migrating into other foods and products in the store.

      I don’t know about you, but when I pay extra for organic foods, I don’t want them tasting like incense or other fragrance chemicals. I don’t want to be eating phthalates and BPA, so I avoid plastics, I don’t want to be breathing in the chemicals in tobacco smoke, yet buying food from most stores means these toxic chemicals are getting into the foods they sell.

      Buying veggies and fruit from farmer’s markets, CSA‘s or organic delivery services usually eliminates this problem, but some warehouses have so-called air”fresheners” or allow staff to use scented soaps etc, which end up leaving residues on the food, and not all kinds of foods are available from these sources.

      Food should not be kept in the same air space as these toxic chemicals. Volatile toxic chemicals should be sealed in impenetrable packaging as long as they are still legal. Stores that sell both food and items that contain volatile chemicals should be required to separate the fragranced items from the foods, including using different ventilation systems. It shouldn’t be so difficult for anyone, let alone those of us with a medical need, to find safe, chemical and fragrance free foods.

      • I use FireFox for a browser. Text shows as black and the hyperlinks are a really bright blue and underlined. I can always copy and paste into Word to read things. . I need those paragraph breaks to be able to understand too.

    • Peter, my son figured it out.

      Once you’ve clicked on a link, it turns gray, and since I’ve clicked on them all before inserting, they don’t appear blue to me. I don’t know if there’s a way to change this for readers.

      This was my first attempt at writing anything more than my own experiences in years, so there is room for improvement. And here I was trying to make things easier, not harder for others! So feedback and tips are welcome!

      I might have to learn about using references instead of hyperlinks. I haven’t officially been taught how to write or use computer programs, so this is me making it up as I go along.

      Apologies to those of you who find it difficult.

  8. Thank you so much for so eloquently articulating this huge problem and what we can and should do about it.

  9. Hi Linda,
    Thanks so much. I stumbled on this while trying to amass a file of information that I will give to the local food co-op. There are three storefronts here and all have incense from India for sale. In one store it is placed on shelves immediately inside an entryway and in another it is right beside the checkout, so it’s nearly impossible to shop and avoid it.
    I’ve had many asthma attacks that were triggered or made worse while shopping in these local so-called health food co-ops. I also did actually collapse once in the checkout line because of an asthma attack. At the very least there are headaches and other not so minor problems I might face
    when I go in the store. It can take an hour or several hours to recover after exposure, much like having to do laundry at any public laundrymat where the chemical perfume smells can be overwhelming.
    I’ve only managed to have one conversation with managers at one store.
    Their only solution was to offer to let me give my shopping list and money to someone in the store and they would bring it out to me in the parking lot.
    They said there was really nothing else they could do. That seems like such an inconvenience to me that I just go ahead and shop anyway. There are too many items I need to be able to see when I shop. Amazingly the large corporate grocery chains are not quite as bad partly because of the size and maybe they have better air ventilation. I need to avoid detergent and any stronger chemical aisles but it is easier because of the size of the store.
    (I’ve still had too many asthma attacks triggered especially when lingering to talk to someone I know, then realizing too late when my throat is swelling shut that we are near a display of Roundup or some other chemical trigger)
    (actually the Roundup herbicide was displayed right at the edge of the produce dept. — go figure!)
    It would be nice if people realized that we are essentially like the canaries in the coal mine and that if something is affecting us now, it might cause them, or their children or unborn children problems down the line.

  10. I hope this research document helps you persuade the local health food stores to stop carrying incense, since there is nothing healthy about it (even when it’s not burning). Modern incense is not the same as it was in the early days, nor were food stores (if they even existed) built airtight so that food would end up absorbing the airborne chemicals from incense.

    Yet another study links phthalates to diabetes… “Phthalates make plastics such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) more flexible, and they are added to some cosmetics, perfumes and other personal care products to stabilize colors and fragrances.” and as the research shows, they are also in incense now… http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2012/study-links-plastics-chemicals-to-womens-diabetes

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