An electronic nose developed to foil some people's attempt to deceive their doctors by telling them that they are non-smokers, in order to get cheaper life insurance.
Paul Thomas at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, has revealed that their invention is a tweaked form of a commercially available e-nose.
The researcher says that it can detect the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the breath of a person who had smoked a cigarette.
The e-nose uses an array of 32 sensors whose electrical resistance changes as different VOCs are detected.
During a test, the researchers could correctly identified 37 out of 39 volunteers as either smokers or non-smokers relying upon on the resultant "smellprint".
Based on their observations, the team came to the conclusion that such e-noses could quickly and reliably reveal smokers without the need for a blood or urine test.
The current method of measuring the carbon monoxide content of exhaled breath to confirm smoking activity picks up a smoker for only a few hours after their last cigarette.
It is even prone to error because it cannot tell whether carbon monoxide in the breath came from other sources such as traffic exhaust fumes.
Insurers are very interested in whether a person applying for health or life insurance smokes - for obvious reasons.
"Some insurance providers don't ask questions about smoking at all, while others ask the question on an application form but do not require a test as the applicant is expected to answer the question honestly," New Scientist magazine quoted Kelly Ostler-Coyle, of the Association of British Insurers, as saying.
By making the test simple and reliable, an e-nose could provide doctors with the truth in minutes, according to the researchers.
They, however, admit that their system needs further testing to prove its worth.
"This e-nose idea, whilst of interest, will require larger-scale trials to demonstrate clinical efficacy and patient acceptability before it can be considered for use," says a spokesman for the UK Department of Health.
A research article describing the innovation has been published in the Journal of Breath Research.