HIV-positive people who smoke cigarettes could be putting themselves at huge risk, and smoking could be more harmful that the HIV virus itself.
A new study has found that, given higher rates of smoking among HIV-positive people, smoking regularly could reduce the life span of someone taking effective medication by twice as much as HIV itself.
The study also found that those who do not adhere to medication or those not receiving care also have a lower life expetancy if they smoke, the study found.
“Smoking is now the leading killer of people with HIV who are on anti-retrovirals,” said Dr Krishna P Reddy, the author of the study and a Harvard Medical School instructor.
He said that around two decades ago, many HIV-positive people did not live long enough to experience the effects of smoking, but now that HIV medication is much more effective, life expectancy is almost the same among HIV-positive people as those without the virus.
There is a much larger proportion of smokers within HIV-positive people, as found by a study by the National Institutes of Health in 2011, that 50 to 70 percent were smokers, compared with around 17 percent of the adult population, as estimated by the CDC.
A HIV activist and blogger, Jeffrey Newman, said that anxiety about being HIV-positive contributed to his smoking.
“I’ve survived for 15 years with HIV… Now I come to find out that this little thing that looks so harmless could kills me faster and quicker than HIV,” he says.
But Dr Reddy says that the time to quit never comes too late. He said those who receive HIV care who quit smoking at 40 can regain between 4.6 and 5.7 years back on their life span.
The study hopes to encourage funding and access for HIV treatment, including resources to help people stop smoking.
“There have been so many advances in medicine to sustain life with HIV, and a good quality of life,” adds Newman. “Smoking needs to be part of the conversation