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Do Smokers Have an Impaired Sense of Taste?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated Feb 17, 2024
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Many people are aware of the health risks associated with smoking, but not everyone is aware of how smoking can impact the function of our senses on a daily basis. One of the best examples of this type of impairment of the senses is with our ability to taste. Here is what causes smokers to experience an impaired sense of taste.

The action of taste is actually a combination of the work of the taste buds on the tongue and the olfactory senses of the nose. The nerves that carry stimuli to and from these locations can be impacted by a number of different factors. Essentially, anything that interferes or blunts the ability of the nerves to accurately register various types of stimuli will result in an impaired sense of taste.

When it comes to smoking a cigarette or cigar, the smoker places the taste buds in contact with chemical compounds that tend to blunt the ability of the buds to register the four basic tastes that the system is designed to recognize. The chemicals do not completely destroy the ability of the taste buds to recognize salty, sweet, sour and bitter tastes. However, the degree of recognition is greatly decreased.

At the same time, smokers also inhale and exhale the smoke from cigarettes through the nose and mouth. The chemicals in the cigarettes also dull the ability of the olfactory nerves to register the aromas of foods as well. Because our sense of taste is actually a combination of both taste and smell, smoking tends to lead to an impaired sense of taste by interfering with both forms of sensory recognition.

This loss of taste is usually a gradual process, so the smoker does not realize that he or she is no longer obtaining the same level of enjoyment from food. In fact, the food may still register enough of a sense of taste to be very enjoyable even to someone who has smoked for years. Thus, the smoker is likely to be unaware that an his or her sense of taste has been compromised.

Fortunately, this impaired sense of taste is not permanent. Many people who quit smoking notice that within as little as two days after smoking that last cigarette that the aroma and taste of food becomes much more powerful and distinct. This is because the taste buds and the nerve endings in the nose begin to wake up or regenerate from the depression that was caused by the chemicals in the cigarettes. As time goes on, the impairment of taste is completely reversed, and it is possible once more to enjoy all the flavors and smells associated with favorite dishes.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including WiseGeek, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By anon356581 — On Nov 26, 2013

To Potterspop: Your father gained weight because nicotine is a stimulant that causes calories to be burned more quickly and it acts as an appetite suppressant. Without the nicotine, his metabolism slowed and his appetite increased. It was not the "taste testing" that caused the weight gain.

By Potterspop — On May 16, 2011

When my father quit smoking he went off certain foods. I remember my mother getting quite mad at him because he swore they just didn't taste right anymore. That happened to a couple of his favorite dishes, but he found others to replace them. He also gained twenty pounds during the process of taste testing everything!

By Bakersdozen — On May 14, 2011

@MissMuffet - I can understand a non smoker - which I am guessing you are - would wonder about that. Believe it or not, most people I know hated this themselves when they first started out. It sounds odd to talk about having to get used to it, but that's what happens.

The loss of your sense of taste applies to tobacco as much as food. Luckily the human body is forgiving enough to not make this a permanent issue.

By MissMuffet — On May 12, 2011

I would have thought that smokers could taste very little. That would explain how they can tolerate the smoke they are taking in so many times a day!

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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