Olfactory cue reactivity in nicotine-dependent adult smokers

Psychol Addict Behav. 2015 Mar;29(1):91-6. doi: 10.1037/adb0000018. Epub 2014 Sep 1.


Cue-elicited reactivity is a significant factor in relapse during smoking quit attempts. Previous research has focused primarily on visual smoking cues, with very limited research examining reactivity to olfactory triggers. Twenty-six adult non-treatment-seeking, nicotine-dependent smokers were exposed to 7 odorants during a cue-reactivity session measuring heart rate, skin conductance, and subjective craving. Cues included 2 cigarette odors (fresh tobacco and cigarette smoke), 2 odors previously identified as smoking-related (freshly mowed grass and coffee), 2 odors previously identified as unrelated to smoking (lavender and burned rubber), and 1 odorless control (propylene glycol). Pairwise comparisons demonstrated that subjective intensity of craving was significantly higher following exposure to the fresh tobacco odor compared with the odorless control (p < .01). A significant main effect for cue type on a physiological measure of arousal was also revealed, with a fresh tobacco odor-elicited significant increase in skin conductance level compared with the odorless control. However, no main effect of cue type on heart rate was found (p = .25). The results of the present study indicate that cigarette odor is an effective olfactory cue that heightens both subjective craving and increases skin conductance in smokers. Future research is needed to evaluate whether avoidance of these odors, or extinction of responses to them, can reduce relapse risk during smoking quit attempts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cues*
  • Female
  • Galvanic Skin Response / physiology*
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nicotine
  • Olfactory Perception / physiology*
  • Smoking / physiopathology*
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Young Adult


  • Nicotine