Smokers who are also HIV positive have a higher risk of dying from smoking related complications than from HIV itself. This was the conclusion reached by scientists from the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston when they compared the effects of smoking on HIV positive patients compared to HIV negative patients.

This is a worrying conclusion as 40 percent of HIV positive people smoke, compared to 15% of the general population (US figures). The rate of HIV postive patients in the uK who smoke is comparable.

We already know that smoking is a major contributing factor in heart disease, lung diseases, emphysema, lung cancer and many other health and socio economic issues.

However, HIV positive smokers also have an increased risk of ;

  • Bacterial pneumonia
  • Mouth sores
  • Thrush
  • Pneumocystis pneumonia
  • Lung cancer
  • Other cancers
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke

In the study the researchers saw evidence that even in patients who adhered fully with their HIV medications, smoking decreased their life expectancy by twice as much as the HIV itself.

On average HIV postive male smokers, starting treatment at age 40, lost  6.7 years of life expectance and HIV positive women lost 6.3 years, compared to those HIV positive patients who never smoked.

In a further observation they noted that men who stopped smoking and started treatment at age 40, would gain on average 5.7 years of life expectancy and women on average 4.6 years.

The conclusion was that for HIV positive patients the risk of dying from smoking was much higher, than the risk of dying from HIV itself. They therefore called for immediate interventions for smoking cessation to be prioritised in HIV positive patients.

The message is clear. If you are HIV positive and you smoke you are not only increasing your risk of illness, but also your risk of dying much earlier than you would have if you quit. These days there are many ways to help you quit so if you have one New Years resolution, make it this one!