Smoking May Kill HIV Patients Sooner Than the Disease Itself, Study Says

Mass General research says HIV patients who smoke may be shaving years off their lives.


Smoking photo via

HIV patients who smoke may have more to worry about than their diagnoses. According to a new study from Massachusetts General Hospital, smoking may kill HIV-positive individuals faster than the disease does—proving just how deadly the habit can be.

The report, published in The Journal of Infectious Diseasesfinds that people who are HIV-positive and consistently take anti-HIV medicines, but who smoke, are at risk of developing diseases such as lung cancer, heart disease, and emphysema at higher rates than non-HIV infected individuals. Using an HIV simulation model, the researchers demonstrated that a person with the disease could lose more than eight years of his or her life simply due to smoking habits, unrelated to HIV infection.

“It is time to recognize that smoking is now the primary killer of people with HIV who are receiving treatment,” senior author Rochelle Walensky, who works in Mass General’s infectious disease department, said in a statement.

Though roughly 15 percent of American adults smoke cigarettes, the smoking rate for those living with HIV is more than 40 percent, while an additional 20 percent of HIV patients are former smokers.

“Smoking cessation should be a key part of the care of people living with HIV to improve both their lifespan and their quality of life,” co-author Travis Baggett, who is part of the Tobacco Research and Treatment Center at Mass General, said in a statement.

For those who enter HIV treatment as smokers, quitting, especially at a young age, was shown to partially restore life expectancy.

“Unfortunately, smoking cessation interventions have not been widely incorporated into HIV care,” Krishna Reddy, the study’s leader and a fellow in Mass General’s division of pulmonary and critical care medicine, said in a statement. “Given how common smoking is among people with HIV, now is the time to change that.”