Food scientists at the University of Otago say vaping is having “unexpected and interesting” side effects, including a dislike of sweet smells.
Research has been carried out by the university alongside the National Institute for Health Innovation that explored the impact of vaping on people’s sense of smell and taste.
The study Does vaping affect the taste and smell perception? An exploratory study with New Zealand young adults was published in the international research journal Appetite.
A total of 213 people, aged over 18, took part in the study, including regular and casual vapers and those who have never used.
Lead author Dr Jessica McCormack, of Otago’s Department of Food Science, said results show non-vapers found “sweet” smells more pleasant than vapers.
“Changes in smell and taste are often linked to dietary changes, so it is important that we understand the effects of vaping long-term, particularly in those who are not former or current smokers,” McCormack said.
The research was sparked by emerging trends among young people and the increasing societal prominence of vaping.
Participants tasted and smelled different tastes and odours diffused in simple solutions.
“[They] rated the pleasantness and intensity of the smell and taste samples and did a simple sensory detection test where they had to guess between a plain water sample and the taste/smell at a very low concentration,” McCormack said.
“We still have more we need to know about what the mechanisms might be here - is it related to the use of flavours or nicotine or a combination?”
There was a further suggestion that overexposure could be a factor given the popularity of sweet vape flavours.
Side effects including smell dysfunction and taste changes have previously been linked to smoking but researchers did not assume there would be parallels with vaping.
“It was really interesting that we found a difference between our vapers and non-vapers that is consistent with studies of smokers,” McCormack said.
“Another reason might be that nicotine enhances the reinforcement of stimuli, so in the absence of nicotine sweet smells might seem less pleasant.”
Fellow author Dr Mei Peng said the findings also have some implications on vaping effects on eating behaviours among young people.
“We hope to look into these effects in a future study soon,” she said.
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