Can Smoking Affect Your Sense of Smell

There’s nothing like the smell of fresh cut grass or the sweet scent of flowers at the Raulston Arboretum. Perhaps the fragrance of fresh cut grass reminds you of playing baseball. Have you ever been tempted by the aroma of fresh funnel cakes at the NC State Fair? If you smoke, you can say good-bye to these because

smoking can damage your sense of smell. 

Smokers are six times more likely to have poor smell than non-smokers. It’s also affected by the amount smoked—those who smoke two packs a day will have greater damage than those who smoke one pack. 

Roughly two percent of North Americans have problems with their sense of smell. Not only can this cause problems with the sense of taste, it can also be dangerous. Those with a dulled sense of smell are unable to detect gas leaks, fire or spoiled food.

The connection between smell and taste

Both smell and taste rely on receptors that activate when they encounter an odor. These signals are then sent to the brain. There is a channel that connects the roof of the throat to the nose. Chewing releases these aromas, which then activate the sense of smell. 

Don’t believe it? Try this short experiment.
Hold your nose and eat a piece of chocolate or drink a cup of coffee. Do you have a hard time tasting what you’re eating? That’s because these two things rely heavily upon your sense of smell to give them that powerful, savory scent. Without the ability to detect fragrances, food becomes bland and tasteless. 

Smell is also impacted by “common chemical sense.” This means thousands of nerve endings in the nose, mouth and throat can help detect irritating substances such as an onion.

Treatment for smelling loss

If smelling problems are due to cigarettes, then quit smoking. It’s one of the most detrimental things for your health, and smokers at greater risk for heart disease, lung cancer, high blood pressure and several other complications. Quitting is a challenge, but there are several resources available to help. Be patient—some studies indicate that it could take years before a former smoker’s sense of smell returns to normal. 

If you have problems with your sense of smell, it’s important to speak with your local ENT. While this can be caused by common problems such as an upper respiratory infection or sinusitis, it can also be a symptom of more serious diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s or multiple sclerosis. Because the senses of smell and taste are closely related, food becomes less enjoyable, and you may be tempted to use too much salt. Poor smell can cause some people to eat too much or too little. 
Your local ENT will conduct a physical examination to be sure you don’t have nasal polyps or something else that could be impacting your smell. He or she may also conduct a smell test, which involves “scratch and sniff” beads of fragrances. If you can’t identify the odor, or smell it at all, it indicates a problem.

There are several other issues that can damage smell, including:

  • Hormonal problems
  • Certain medications
  • Radiation treatment
  • Head injuries
  • Nasal polyps
  • Aging

Your sense of smell is one of those things that isn’t appreciated until it is gone. In extreme cases, loss of smell can lead to depression or other problems. Smoking is one of the most common causes, and quitting is a vital step to restoring your quality of life and safeguarding your health.


Katotomichelakis M, Balatsouras D, et al. “The Effect of Smoking on the Olfactory Function. 
2007 Dec;45(4):273-80. PubMed PMID: 18085020. Online.

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. “Smell Disorders.” National 
         Institute of Health. Online.

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. “Taste Disorders.” National 
         Institute of Health. Online.