The way I understand how a smoker works is that it effectively calms bees because smoke makes them instinctively think their hive is in danger and that they may have to abandon their home right away. The bees quickly gorge on honey to prepare for their fast departure in case they won't have another honey source for a while. Supposedly, the bees are preoccupied with sucking down honey and the gorging makes them less agitated. I'm unsure of the science behind gorging, but I know humans are less active after a large meal. Maybe it's the same sort of effect.
I think my bees have learned that the sounds and smells associated with me fooling their hive are not a threat. By not inducing fear via smoke, I think they feel less stressed all the way around. I know this may seem ridiculous to even write about. There are beekeepers with decades of experience out there and there is history dating back thousands of years, and all say the same thing: smoking bees is necessary.
I just happen to have a sweet hive. For whatever reasons, my bees don't seem inspired to attack me or sting me, so I can't see a reason to change what I'm doing.
I may have a hive some day that is not nearly so gentle and kind. All I can do is speak about this hive; the one I have right now, and they seem extraordinarily trusting. I have inspected the hive many, many times and not only do I not smoke them, I don't wear a bee suit or veil. I'm in sleeveless shirts and sandals. I've been stung once on my hand at the end of an inspection.