Struggling to curb that cigarette habit? A study has found that people trying quit smoking may benefit from inhaling pleasant smelling aromas like peppermint, chocolate or vanilla, reports Lois Zoppi for Medical Life Sciences. The study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology states that there is ‘surprisingly little research’ into using olfactory cues to reduce cigarette cravings.
Smokers reported a 23% 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%.
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,” says Dr Michael Sayette of the University of Pittsburgh, the 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 olfactory cues” or OCs.
Around 90% 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.”
Need for new approaches to smoking cessation
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 4% 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 odours shows promise for controlling nicotine cravings in individuals who are trying to quit smoking.”
Pleasant olfactory cues can reduce cigarette craving
Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 15 April 2019
Sayette, Michael A; Marchetti, Mary A; Herz, Rachel S; Martin, Lea M; and Bowdring, Molly A.
Cigarette craving is a cardinal feature of smoking, which is the leading preventable cause of death. Despite its clinical relevance, there remains a pressing need to develop new approaches for controlling craving. Although olfactory cues (OCs) are especially well suited to reduce affectively charged cravings, there has been surprisingly little research on the topic.
We investigated the strategic use of OCs to reduce cigarette craving. Abstinent smokers (N = 232) initially sampled and rated a series of OCs. Participants then were exposed to in vivo smoking cues, which produced robust cigarette cravings.
During peak craving, they were randomly assigned to sniff one of three types of OCs (all of which they had previously sampled) while their craving, and a set of responses thought to be associated with craving, were assessed.
OCs that a participant had rated as pleasant reduced craving more than did exposure to odour blank (i.e. neutral) or tobacco-related OCs. This effect persisted over the course of 5 min. In addition, smokers with the most specific autobiographical memory systems were most responsive to the craving-reducing effects of pleasant OCs.
About 90% of participants reported they could imagine using a pleasant OC to curb their craving in the natural environment. 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.
Given observed relations between craving and smoking relapse, novel approaches to craving relief are sorely needed. This laboratory study revealed that, following exposure to a lit cigarette to generate a peak craving state in abstinent smokers, the strategic use of olfactory cues reduced craving throughout the course of a 5-min assessment.
These findings support continued investigation of olfactory cues as a potential component of a smoking cessation intervention.Smelling your favorite food or beverage could curb cigarette cravings
Pleasant olfactory cues can reduce cigarette craving.