Smelling your favorite food or beverage could curb cigarette cravings

Struggling to curb that cigarette habit? A new study has found that people trying quit smoking may benefit from inhaling pleasant-smelling aromas like peppermint, chocolate, or vanilla. The study, which was published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, stated that there was “surprisingly little research” into using olfactory cues (OCs) to reduce cigarette cravings.

Woman smelling coffeeFarknot Architect | Shutterstock

Smokers reported a 23 percent decrease in cravings after smelling a container holding their favourite scent. In contrast, those given tobacco or an empty container to smell found their cravings fell by just 14 percent.

Although nicotine therapies are popular methods to help ease the process for those quitting smoking, they are not a perfect remedy to cravings, say the authors.

Even with nicotine replacement, relapse is common. New interventions are urgently needed to help the millions who wish to quit but are unable to. Using pleasant odors to disrupt smoking routines would offer a distinct and novel method for reducing cravings, and our results to this end are promising.”

Dr. Michael Sayette, Lead Author

The test included 232 smokers who were asked to rank pleasant smells by preference. Aromas included apple, peppermint, and lemon.

The smell they rated as their favorite was used in trials during which participants were asked to hold a lit cigarette but not smoke it and rate the intensity of their cravings, before and after smelling their favorite aroma.

The reduction in cravings brought on by smelling pleasant scents were reported to last over the course of five minutes. Additionally, smokers with the “most autobiographical memory systems were most responsive to the craving-reducing effects of pleasant OCs.”

Around 90 percent of study participants felt pleasant smells could help reduce everyday cigarette cravings.

The study states: “The present data suggest that OCs show promise for controlling cravings and highlight the need to conduct further research to test whether OCs may prove useful alone or in combination with existing approaches as a smoking cessation intervention."

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40 million Americans still smoke even though rates have fallen over the past 50 years.

Only four percent of people who try to quit without any help from nicotine therapies, e-cigarettes, or other stop-smoking treatments will successfully quit smoking after a year.

“Despite disappointing relapse rates, there have been few new approaches to smoking cessation in general and to craving relief in particular,” Dr. Sayette said.

“Showing we can maintain the effect for as long as five minutes suggests it might offer enough time for a smoke to decide to avoid or leave their high-risk situation.”

More research into the exact mechanisms that lead to smells causing a reduction in cravings and eventually, smoking cessation, is required to see if olfactory cues could be used as a single treatment or in combination with other stop-smoking strategies.

Dr. Sayette concluded, “Our research suggests that the use of pleasant odors shows promise for controlling nicotine cravings in individuals who are trying to quit smoking.”

Lois Zoppi

Written by

Lois Zoppi

Lois is a freelance copywriter based in the UK. She graduated from the University of Sussex with a BA in Media Practice, having specialized in screenwriting. She maintains a focus on anxiety disorders and depression and aims to explore other areas of mental health including dissociative disorders such as maladaptive daydreaming.

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