ethel’s words

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SENSE OF SMELL

Perhaps the most insidious harm done by blaming all ills on smoking tobacco is the resulting neglect of other health-damaging substances. For brevity, consider only materials similar to tobacco smoke--gases?

I am both benefitted and impaired by having a keen sense of smell--still, at age 85. I recently purchased a “baby lotion” for my aging skin. That baby lotion was so perfumed, I tried to wash it off right away. The odor stuck. Poor baby! Surely that will eradicate the infant’s olfactory equipment.

Over the years, I have been forced out of many situations: I have had to exit meetings and classrooms; have had to get out of elevators because odious perfume made my lungs refuse to breathe. “Perfumes” of various ilk are as ubiquitous as music in stores used to be. The laundry-and-cleaning stock at the markets would gag a maggot. The cosmetic section overwhelms. The pervasive smell of stale deep-fry oil is pretty nauseating, but perfume is the worst, especially when added to B.O.

Decades ago, I temporarily stopped smoking and soon realized that smoking had (mercifully) dulled my olfactory sensitivity. Perfumes gave me instant headache. Even the smell of new-mown grass almost overwhelmed. The grocery checkout wait was uncomfortable, to say the least. So, honest sweat from a day’s work--providing for all of us--is probably inevitable, not by choice. Perfumes in restaurants (how rude!) destroy the art of the chef and half the identity of the food, for anyone; for me, the combination was a bad experience.

I resumed smoking--joyfully--until about age 70 when I stopped again, primarily because I had observed older smokers dropping off to sleep, with resultant burns in carpets.

When we smell something, molecules of that substance have contacted our body. So, even if we are olfactory cripples, and cannot smell, the substances nevertheless settle onto and maybe into, our flesh. Yes, a long way to get to my point: That baby lotion: To the infant, this smothering is simply “life” outside the womb, as is the awful chlorine in our water; the effluvium from our worshipped automobiles. Our babies, our children, with their more functioning senses--all their senses?--would not understand (adults don’t understand!) that living in gaseous stinks is not “the norm”--not inevitable.

It appears most Americans have lost that vital sense, smell, yet nearly all of them claim they can smell cigarette smoke. Commerce’s stink will stay, I guess, as that has no moral implications.

Ethel C. Hale