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Oh, the smell of it!


If you are a lifelong, nonsmoker, you have probably noticed how much more sensitive your nose is to the presence of smoke in a room now that many restaurants and other public places offer smoke-free environments. You also know how much the taste of food depends upon the sense of smell, which is why the common cold reduces the most delicious meal to a tasteless pile of mush.

Researchers at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania's Smell and Taste Center in Philadelphia have now shown what smokers are missing, after comparing the sniffing abilities of more than 600 smokers, ex-smokers and lifelong nonsmokers. Asking the subjects to identify the odors of more than 40 different products, researchers found that smokers and ex-smokers had lower scores than nonsmokers; also, the heavier the smoker, the lower his score. On the other hand, they found that the loss can be reversed with time, and even a relatively heavy smoker can eventually regain much of his loss by giving up the weed. (Exactly what causes theloss is not known, but it is probably a chemical in tobacco smoke that damages, at least temporarily, the detector cells in the nose.)

By that same token, the latest of more than 20 Surgeon General reports on smoking stresses that giving up smoking even late in life adds years to one's life expectancy. "It's never too late to quit smoking." writes Surgeon General Antonia Novello, who adds, "Persons who quit smoking before age 50 have one-half the risk of dying in the next 15 years compared with continuing smoking." Many persons mistakenly believe that lung cancer is the greatest life threat to smokers, and although lung cancer is much more common among smokers than among nonsmokers, many other diseases, such as emphysema and coronary heart disease (CHD), threaten the life of the smoker. CHD is the leading cause of death in this country, and smokers have a high risk of dying from it. Yet that risk can be cut in half in just one year after stopping, says Dr. Novello.

A common excuse for not quiting is the fear of gaining weight. However, the Surgeon General's report shows that quiters gain an average of only five pounds. And if there is any risk to health from this modest gain, it is certainly nothing compared to the risks--within your nose and beyond--of continuing to smoke.
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Title Annotation:research with smokers, ex-smokers and lifelong nonsmokers
Publication:Medical Update
Date:Dec 1, 1990
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