Smelling peppermint or chocolate, and other things of good odor helps smokers to not give in to their cigarette cravings, a small study suggests.
While there are several approaches that people can use for smoking cessation—among which are consumption of medical products (nicotine gum, nicotine patch), medication, and behavioral approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy and meditation—many adults who try to quit smoking still find it an awfully difficult challenge.
Smoking relapse usually happens within two weeks after the initial decision to quit, researchers note in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology lead by study author Michael Sayette.
In the same study, researchers have tested a new option among 232 smokers who weren’t trying to quit, or at least using tobacco-replacement products: use the smokers’ cravings for certain appealing smells.
Researchers asked participants not to smoke for eight hours prior to the experiment and required them to bring a pack of their preferred cigarettes and a lighter with them to the lab.
Upon arrival, the people first smelled and rated a number of different odors generally considered to be pleasant like chocolate, apple, peppermint and vanilla, or unpleasant, like a mushroom-derived chemical. Participants also smelled one odor from tobacco leaves, and an odorless product that served as “blank” or neutral scent for comparison.
Then, researchers asked participants to light a cigarette and hold it in their hands, but not smoke it. After 10 seconds, the participants verbally rated their urge to smoke on a scale of 1 to 100 before extinguishing the cigarette and putting it in an ashtray.
The participants then opened a container that held either the scent they had rated most pleasurable, the scent of tobacco or no scent and sniffed it once, then again rated their urge to smoke. They continued to sniff the container they were given as much as they wanted for the next five minutes, rating their urge to smoke every 60 seconds.
The average craving score just after lighting the cigarette was 82.13. Then, regardless of what odor they smelled, all participants experienced a decreased urge to smoke after sniffing the container, but the average craving scores for those who smelled pleasant odors dropped significantly more. With a pleasant odor, craving scores dropped by an average 19.3 points, with a tobacco odor they dropped 11.7 points and with the blank, by 11.2 points.
“Although five minutes may not seem like a long time, it may be sufficient to offer smokers a critical window to rethink what they are doing and perhaps leave a situation where the risk of relapse is high,” Sayette said.
He also added that while the correlation between good odors and the smokers’ urge to smoke is still relatively premature, the initial findings can further be studied to know why and for whom olfactory cues are effective.
Another point to ponder is if the effects can be replicated outside of the lab setting. With that, experts who weren’t involved in the study still recommend the use of the same treatments and strategies that they know work.
A version of this story was originally published on Reuters, as reported by Lisa Rapaport.
Source: Journal of Abnormal Psychology.
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