Many alcoholics will tell you that when they walk past a pub and get a whiff of the stale beer is when the temptation is at its worst. The smell of stale beer is as revolting as the smell of cigarette smoke – yet the temptation effect works the same way.
The modern view by brain scientists is that our emotions is what motivates us. I explained this in chapter ??. It is also a fact that our olfactory organs lead straight into the limbic system – which is the area of the brain that specializes in emotions.
So how does smell affect our decisions?
Our brain comprises of 10 billion neurons. Each neuron is connected to up to 5000 other neurons via synapses. Whenever a neuron fires the synapse between it and other neurons that fire experiences a chemical change – this is how memories are formed. Everything we experience result in a memory (some are just more transient than others).
This is how we interpret our environment. Everything our senses detect about the environment is interpreted based on our memories.
I explain this process extensively in my book The Branded Mind.
The memories that we form about things are not just ‘what is it‘, but also ‘how will it make me feel‘.
If it will make me ‘feel good’ then the emotion that we experience will motivate us toward what we experience.
If it will make me ‘feel bad’ then the emotion that we experience will motivate us away from what we experience.
Generally when we consume alcohol we do this in a relaxed environment with friends and good conversation. Generally we feel good under these circumstances. Alcohol also releases us from our inhibitions and makes us feel more positive about our self.
So, when we smell alcohol – even in the form of stale beer smells – we not only recognise the smell but we also remember the positive feelings we experienced before. this motivates us toward the pub – even if we know it is not a good idea.
Exactly the same mechanisms in our brains are at work when one is an ex-smoker and one smells cigarette smoke.
How many ex-smokers have you heard say:”I haven’t had a cigarette for years, yet when I smell the smoke of a cigarette the temptation is there.”
Some ex-smokers, like my mother-in-law, say that she quite likes to be in the company of smokers because she enjoys the smell. However, this is the minority.
In my experience the worst anti-smoking Nazis are ex-smokers.
I believe that there is a good reason for this, and it lies in the temptation they feel when they smell smoke or see a crowd of smokers enjoying themselves.
This is an area I have not seen explored by books about the evils of smoking, nor is it an argument ever raised for the banning of cigarettes. Possibly because it sounds a bit selfish.
Personally I would suggest that this is one of the best arguments for smoking bans!
Smoking is not good for your health. Some people have exerted a lot of willpower to stop smoking. we should not lay temptation in their way!
However, this does not imply that smokers should be unreasonably persecuted.