Despite anti-smoking campaigns, nicotine gum, vaping devices, and other methods to curb smoking, around 40 million people in the United States still smoke tobacco cigarettes. The known health risks associated with smoking are severe, but quitting is difficult and many smokers find themselves unable to resist the urge. Though a perfect solution to this problem remains elusive, a new study reveals a simple method found to reduce cigarette cravings.
According to a study recently published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, pleasant scents may be key to quickly — though only temporarily — reducing urges to smoke. The results are based on research that involved 232 adult smokers who weren’t using smoking alternatives and who weren’t attempting to quit the habit at the time of the study.
These participants were instructed to avoid smoking for eight hours before the experiment started. After those eight hours passed, the participants smelled various pleasant scents, including things like vanilla, chocolate, apple, peppermint, and lemon. As well, they smelled tobacco from a different participant’s favorite brand, an unpleasant chemical scent, and something with no scent at all.
Participants lit and held a cigarette from their preferred brand, then extinguished it and rated their craving level. Following that, the participants smelled their highest-rated scent from earlier in the experiment. The participants rated their urge to smoke every 60 seconds, ultimately having sniffed the pleasant aroma for five minutes.
Overall, the researchers found that smokers’ urges to smoke dropped by an average of 19.3 points. In comparison, smelling tobacco only decreased the urges by 11.7 points on average, slightly above the 11.2 point reduction experienced by participants who were given a blank scent.
It’s unclear why sniffing pleasant scents reduced smoking cravings, but it may be effective by distracting the smoker from the urge, giving them time to redirect to an alternative option.