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Heightened olfactory dysfunction and oral irritation among chronic smokers and heightened propylthiouracil (PROP) bitterness among menthol smokers
- Duffy, Valerie B., Glennon, Sarah-Grace, Larsen, Brittany A., Rawal, Shristi, Oncken, Cheryl, Litt, Mark D.
- Physiology & behavior 2019 v.201 pp. 111-122
- National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, bitterness, cigarettes, databases, genetics, menthol, mouth, nicotine, olfactory disorders, propylthiouracil, quinine, smell, smoking (habit), sodium chloride, taste
- Chronic cigarette smoking may influence chemosensory function, which in turn, may affect cigarette usage. Because menthol in cigarettes can attenuate nicotine bitterness, choice of menthol/nonmenthol cigarettes may be influenced by ability to perceive bitterness. We examined chemosensory function of chronic smokers, hypothesizing they would show altered function in comparison to non-smokers and by menthol cigarette preference. In laboratory-based measures, chronic smokers (N = 135; 84 menthol smokers) self-reported their chemosensory function and participated in smell (identification task with perceived intensity) and taste (quinine and NaCl intensity on tongue-tip and whole mouth) testing. A taste genetics probe (propylthiouracil (PROP) bitterness) also was assessed. Self-reported and measured chemosensory function were compared with nationally-representative 2013–2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data generated with similar measures. The taste measures also were compared between smokers and age- and sex-matched non-smokers from a laboratory database. Frequencies of self-reported smell and taste alterations among smokers exceeded NHANES prevalence estimates for non-smokers. The rate of measured smell dysfunction also exceeded NHANES prevalence for hyposmia. Compared to non-smokers, smokers reported elevated tongue-tip and whole mouth intensities from 1 M NaCl, with no significant differences in whole mouth quinine or 0.32 M NaCl. Inconsistent with previous hypotheses, smokers were not more likely to report depressed PROP bitterness than non-smokers. However, as expected, menthol smokers reported greater PROP bitterness than non-menthol smokers. In conclusion, chemosensory alterations were more frequent among chronic smokers, including hyposmia and heightened intensity from NaCl at an oral-irritant concentration. PROP supertasters were most likely to prefer mentholated cigarettes.