Want to quit smoking? Rotten fish might be the answer. A new study has found that adding stinky smells to cigarette smoke might help smokers quit, especially if they are exposed to those smells while they sleep.

So who came up with the bright idea of adding the scent of rotten fish to cigarettes? The idea follows the thread of previous studies that showed it was the menthol scent of cigarettes — not just its flavoring — that increased the addictiveness of nicotine. So if a scent can make cigarettes more appealing, maybe it could also make them less so.

To test this theory, Anat Arzi, a neuroscientist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, exposed groups of 66 smokers to cigarette smoke mixed with different odors, such as rotten eggs or rotten fish. She then broke the smokers into two main groups, those who would be exposed to the stinky smells only at night and those that would be exposed while they were awake.

Of the smokers who were exposed to the smells at night, some were exposed to the stench during Stage 2 sleep while others experienced it during REM, or rapid eye movement sleep, the period of sleep during which dreams occur. A control group slept without any stink in the air at all.

For the next week, participants tracked how much they smoked. Arzi and her team found that the participants who were exposed to noxious smells during Stage 2 sleep smoked significantly less than before — around 30 percent less. The effect continued over the course of the entire week. The participants who were exposed to the smells during REM sleep, however, smoked significantly less for the two days following the experiment, but then returned to their previous smoking patterns. Participants who were exposed to rotten smells during the day had no significant change in their smoking habits. 

Arzi's study, which was published in the Journal of Neuroscience, concluded that exposure to cigarette smoke and rotten smells, when paired with sleep training, might help smokers kick the habit. She plans to conduct followup tests to see how long the effects of the experiment last and if they can be used to help smokers quit for good.

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