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The Boston Globe

Health & wellness

New Hampshire considers perfume ban for state employees

New Hampshire state employees might soon be prohibited from wearing perfume or other scented products if they work with the public. The “live free or die” state plans to hold a House hearing this afternoon on a proposed bill, HB 1444, which, if passed, could force some state workers to skip the perfume sprays and colognes starting in mid-April, when the ban would be implemented.

“It may seem silly, but it’s a health issue,” Michele Peckham, the state representative sponsoring the bill, said in an interview with the Union Leader. “Many people have violent reactions to strong scents.”

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Yes, that’s true. But the science is a little shaky on scent sensitivity. Some people do get headaches, nausea, and other symptoms from certain scents. Others may develop mood changes like anxiety. Unfortunately, there’s no reliable way to test for sensitivities to particular fragrances and, thus, no way to tell how many people are affected by them or which scents are most offensive.

Still, dozens of employers have enacted fragrance-free policies, including the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And hotels have begun to offer scent-free rooms. So, clearly, folks are demanding odorless environments.

For the past 10 years, Brigham and Women’s Hospital has considered itself a fragrance-controlled workplace and has a rule discouraging “the use of scents and fragrant products, other than minimally scented personal care products, by BWH employees and staff ... particularly in clinical areas.”

What I’d like to know is how are these policies enforced? Do scent monitors patrol hallways sniffing wrists, underarms, and necks? And what about those strong fabric softeners that leave a scent on our clothes?

Perhaps offenders receive anonymous warning letters that they’re too smelly -- and the embarrassment factor is a strong enough deterrent. I wonder, though, if there are any policies against foul natural body odors? Don’t some of us also get sickened by those?

Actually, Brigham and Women’s thought of that too. “Air fresheners and room deodorizers which have been approved by the Product Committee may be used as directed,” their policy reads. “These products are intended to mask other objectionable odors for the purpose of improved environmental comfort.”

Deborah Kotz can be reached at dkotz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.

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