Scent strips spark protests & response
UPdate Summer 2002

When Canadian Geographic, Reader's Digest and Sympatico NetLife included scent strip ads in their publications, they were startled by the outcry from subscribers. And what's more surprising, they listened.  All three magazines decided not to run scent strip ads again.

But for other magazines, advertising dollars speak louder than consumers. Some, like Canadian Living, People, Glamour and GQ, have responded by providing scent free editions, but only for subscribers. You can't get scent free editions at a newsstand. Other magazines don't provide a scent free option, scent strips are just part of the business.

Scent strips are supposed to be produced so that there is no smell until activated by a reader. But the strips are notorious for "leaking" scent, and strong scent at that.

"This is really an issue for library staff," said Halifax serials supervisor Glenda Groom. "You can smell some magazines throughout the library. The women's magazines are notorious. Some contain up to five scent strips in an issue." Libraries in Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) have a scent free policy, but so far it has been applied more to people than  magazines.

About two years ago, HRM libraries started ordering fragrance free editions of magazines, where they exist. But it isn't always an option.  The HRM library head office, which receives magazines for all the branch libraries, does not remove the scent strips.  It leaves that decision up to the branches. The ads are usually on heavier paper, and can be removed without  losing story content.

The strips can cause serious harm.  One man in the US with Gulf War Syndrome was hospitalized with an asthma attack after opening a magazine containing a leaking scent strip.  His bill for emergency room care, and four days in hospital came to over $9,000.  Scents are a known trigger for asthma and other breathing problems, and for a variety of reactions in people with chemical sensitivities and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Excerpt from a message from Barbara Warren, Publisher, Sympatico NetLife to a customer who became sick after opening a copy of NetLife containing a scent strip and phoned to complain:

"Rest assured you are not alone in your concerns about the scent strip. I've been publisher of this magazine for five years now, and I've never seen an outcry like we've had with this particular issue.

"The scent strip was a test for us. As you probably know we've never run one before, and I can't imagine that in all good conscience we would run one again, knowing that it causes physical harm to some of our membership which we were certainly not aware of.

"So please accept my profuse apologies for any discomfort the scent strip may have caused you or anyone in your home.  That was not our intention. We have absolutely no plans to run any in the next 12 months and would certainly have to give long, hard, conscionable thought before we'll ever accept one again...

"I wanted to thank you for getting in touch and letting us know so that we can realize the widespread reaction that has happened from our actions."