* Revolting Smell

Even smokers hate the smell of stale cigarette smoke.

I was recently in Dubai Airport. Dubai tries to market itself as the intersection between the east and west and really tries to get people to fly via Dubai. This means that where ever you come from , and wherever you are going to they want you to depart a flight, wait a while and then embark a new flight.

A few years ago, on my first transit, I enjoyed the airport. It was a pleasure to wait for my nest flight. Like all airports I was not allowed to smoke inside other than in their smoking areas. These were small and uncomfortable, but there were enough and it was nice to have fag while you are waiting for your connecting flight.

Last month I had to stop over on a flight from Johannesburg to India.

The airport anti-smoking Nazis had reduced the number of smoking areas. For some reason they also decided that it is a good idea to block the extractor fans with pieces of cardboard. The actual rooms were designed for about 10 people standing. We were about 20 people crammed into this space smoking with no extractor fans.,

Everybody that entered the little area immediately expressed disgust and revolt at the smog inside. Then we all became friends and co-sufferers all discussing the disgusting smoke – while we each had our fag – and left as soon as we could. Only to return to have a final fag before our plane embarked.

one is left to wonder what purpose this served? Why block the extractor fans in these small rooms? What does this have to do with the health issues about smoking? What does this have to do with smoking causing cancer?

What was obvious from this, however, was that every smoker that entered the cubicle expressed disgust at the smell of stale smoke. Not one smoker entered and merely stood there inhaling smoke because they like the smell of smoke, or have a need for nicotine. They all hated the smell of smoke.

This gets us to the Biology and Neurology of SMELL.

Brain scientists (which includes Neuroscientists) have since the mid 1990’s come to recognize that EMOTIONS have a role in the survival of all animals.

The word EMOTION is derived from the latin word movere meaning ‘to move’. This is the same root as motivation, and movement.

It now appears from the new insights about the way the brain works (neurology) that emotions is what motivates us to move toward, or away from, things in the environment.

When we experience a positive emotion about something we see this emotion makes us move toward this thing. If we experience a negative emotion to something in our environment we are motivated to move away from this.

Read my chapter about Dopamine.

Our emotions are caused inside the limbic system of the brain – also known as the reptile brain because it is the area we have in common with reptiles, and is the areas of the brain that developed early in evolution. It is also very central to our bain so that it receives messages from all areas of the brain – and transmits signals to all areas of the brain.

Everything we perceive about our environment is processed via the limbic system. Here the knowledge about how we FEEL about what we perceive is added to the perception itself so that we can make decisions about what we perceive.

Thus all the input about what we perceive about the environment via our sensory organs pass through the limbic system. Sight, Touch, Smell, etc.

However, of all the senses the one that is directly connected to the limbic system is the olfactory system – smell. All other senses first goes though systems that interpret what we see or feel and then the signals enter the limbic system.

Animals, in nature, survive mainly based on their sense of smell. They smell where their prey is, and they smell where danger is. Not only do they have snouts longer than humans, with more sensory nerves in these long snouts, but the connection from these snouts enter the limbic system directly so that they can react to danger faster.

It is only with the evolution of apes taking to trees that eyes became an important sense – the coordination of eyes and hands are important when you swing among branches.

It is an interesting fact that most wild animals have poorer sight than humans in terms of the spectrum of light. Sight is less important in the wild than what smell is.

One of the most important functions of smell is that of identifying things that are bad for you.

In common language we call it disgust and revolt. Emotions that turn us away from things.

As an example: It will be difficult for me to make you puke other than to use your sense of smell. However, I can easily make you puke in disgust simply using smell.

This is the emotional (survival) power of smell.

Even modern man will evaluate whether a piece of meat or fruit is fresh enough to be eaten by smelling. We will judge the quality of water by smelling. We even judge people by their smell, and they will try attract us by using smell – deodorants and perfumes. There is even evidence that we still select our prospective mates by way of smell (much like dogs smell each other).

All of this because of our olfactory organs have the most direct route to the limbic system, and this is where emotions are generated.


In these chapters I want o explain:

  1. The disgusting smell of cigarette smoke is probably the main cause of anti-smokers being so emotionally anti-smoking,
  2. That the sense of smell is the most important input to EMOTION,
  3. That this is very well understood from a neuroscience perspective,
  5. That this has nothing to do with anti-cigarette advertising.

One response to “* Revolting Smell

  1. Hi there terrific blog! Does running a blog similar to this take a great deal of work? I have very little understanding of coding but I had been hoping to start my own blog in the near future. Anyhow, should you have any suggestions or techniques for new blog owners please share. I know this is off subject but I just needed to ask. Many thanks!

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