As health officials search for novels ways to help cigarette smokers kick the habit, they may want to consider enlisting the power of smell.
Researchers found that smokers exposed to pleasant olfactory cues, like the scents of chocolate, lemon, or vanilla, had less intense cigarette cravings than those exposed to a neutral smell or the smell of tobacco.
The very preliminary research suggests a possible role for olfactory stimulation in smoking cessation, said Michael Sayette, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh, and colleagues in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.
Smelling your favourite food or beverage could curb cigarette cravings. The study stated that there was “surprisingly little research” into using olfactory cues (OCs) to reduce cigarette cravings.
Smokers reported a 23 per cent 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 per cent.
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 odours to disrupt smoking routines would offer a distinct and novel method for reducing cravings, and our results to this end are promising,” said Dr Michael Sayette, lead author of the study.
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 favourite 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 favourite 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 per cent 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.”
“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 odours shows promise for controlling nicotine cravings in individuals who are trying to quit smoking.”