Mar. 23 -- THURSDAY, April 12 (HealthDay News) --What do a slice of cheese, a glass of water, and a plate of broccoli have in common?
According to new research, consuming any of these foods seems to diminish the taste of cigarettes.
The research also found that cigarette taste is enhanced after eating meat or drinking alcohol or beverages that contain caffeine.
Taken together, the discoveries raise the possibility of fashioning a so-called "smoker's diet" -- one that could help make quitting easier.
"Smoking is not just about nicotine addiction, it's also about taste and sensory qualities of smoking," said study author F. Joseph McClernon, an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. "So, anything we find that can disturb or disrupt the smoking experience might make it easier for a smoker to quit."
In the April issue of Nicotine & Tobacco Research, McClernon and his colleagues reported on their analysis of questionnaires administered to 209 adult male and female smokers who had already participated in one of six previous smoking studies between 2002 and 2004.
All the participants smoked a minimum of 10 to 15 cigarettes a day and were in otherwise good health. About 70 percent were white, while about a quarter were black.
The authors asked the smokers to indicate which foods they felt either enhanced or worsened the taste of cigarettes. The number of cigarettes smoked per day was noted, as was the participants' choice of cigarette brand, type, size and strength.
On average, the participants smoked about 22 cigarettes a day and had been lighting up for a little more than 21 years. Almost 47 percent said they smoked menthol cigarettes. Just over 40 percent said they smoked "light" cigarettes, while just under 40 percent said they smoked full-flavor brands.
Almost 45 percent of the smokers mentioned some kind of food that worsened cigarette taste, while almost 70 percent identified foods that improved taste.
Fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and non-caffeinated drinks (such as water and juice) were among the foods most commonly cited as worsening the taste of a cigarette.
Participants also pointed to specific situations they said had a taste-diminishing impact, including taking medicines, hot weather, or smoking too much or too fast. Stale cigarettes and a smoky environment also dampened cigarette taste.
On the other hand, caffeinated drinks, alcohol and meat were most often highlighted as improving taste.
McClernon and his team found that younger smokers were more sensitive to foods that worsened taste, whereas those who smoked fewer cigarettes were more susceptible to taste-enhancing foods. Those who smoked non-menthol brands were more sensitive to either kind of influence.
The researchers suggested that clinicians might want to consider advising dietary changes for patients trying to kick the habit.
"There's really no harm in smokers trying some of these things now," McClernon said. "Try drinking skim milk or other dairy products, drinking more water, eating fruits and vegetables before stopping smoking -- and see if that makes smoking less pleasurable."
McClernon acknowledged, however, that further investigation is needed to figure out how exactly foods affect cigarette taste and whether altering a diet might improve quitting success. "But we're going to follow up on that," he noted, "because any kind of clue that has the potential to lead to new treatments is important in dealing with the leading preventable cause of death and disability in the U.S."
Stanton A. Glantz, director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco, described the findings as both interesting and plausible.
"It's not going to make the world start spinning in the opposite direction, but it could have some very practical implications," he said. "When you talk about the perceived taste of smoking, there's a lot of psychopharmacology going on there, so it would depend on how big the effect really turns out to be. But it makes sense. And creating a program where you modify your diet in certain ways to make it easier to quit smoking is not unreasonable at all."
Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, agreed.
"This is new," he noted. "No one has written anything about this seriously up until now, at least that I've seen, and it is certainly worth further study. So, ultimately, the significance of this will be to prompt more research into the role of diet into both starting smoking and quitting. It doesn't provide all the answers, but it opens a new avenue to explore."
For additional information on quitting smoking, visit Smokefree.gov.
SOURCES: F. Joseph McClernon, Ph.D., assistant professor, department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C.; Stanton A. Glantz, Ph.D., professor, medicine, and director, Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, University of California, San Francisco; Matthew L. Myers, president, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Washington, D.C.; April 2007, Nicotine & Tobacco Research