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All Choked Up

June 1, 2010

If you are HIV-positve and you smoke cigarettes, you are putting extra stress on your body.

Smoking weakens your immune system, making it harder to fight off deadly infections like fungal thrush, oral hairy leukoplakia (caused by the Epstein-Barre virus), as well as various types of pneumonia.

Nicotine, a chemical found in tobacco leaves, is an addictive substance. In addition to nicotine, every single cigarette contains an estimated 4,800 harmful chemicals, including 11 proved to cause cancer in humans. Some of the chemicals found in cigarettes are

> acetone, found in nail-polish remover;
> ammonia, a toxic household cleaner;
> formaldehyde, which is used to embalm bodies;
> arsenic, used in rat poison;
> tar, used in paving roads;
> carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas released in car exhaust fumes; and
> cadmium, the main ingredient in battery acid.

Effects of Smoking
Many of the adverse health effects caused by smoking are aggravated by HIV. Smoking increases your risk of heart disease, a heart attack, or a stroke. Some anti-HIV medications can raise the amount of fats and cholesterol in your blood, increasing the chances of developing these problems.

People with HIV also may get sores and infections like thrush or herpes inside the mouth and on the tongue and lips. Smoking aggravates these situations, making dental problems, gum disease and mouth cancer more common.

In addition, people with HIV who smoke get lung cancer, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pneumonia, and other lung infections more often than smokers who do not have HIV. Finally, smoking weakens your immune system, undermining the effects of your HIV medications.

Men and Smoking
Men who have sex with men are disproportionately more likely to smoke cigarettes than their heterosexual counterparts. The rate is an estimated 55.9% higher among MSM. The reasons for this are varied and include anxiety stemming from homophobia and discrimination, increased rates of alcohol use and other behaviors related to smoking, social norms that accept smoking and direct advertising to gay communities by tobacco companies.

Tips on Quitting
Quitting smoking has many health benefits. Twelve hours after quitting, carbon monoxide levels in your body drop to normal. One year after quitting, your added risk of heart disease is half that of a smoker's. And five years after quitting, your risk of a stroke is now similar to those who have never smoked. How to do it?

>Set a quit date. Get rid of all tobacco materials around you, and tell your family and friends to please not smoke around you.

>Ask for help. You can also seek counseling and talk to your medical provider about nicotine replacement therapy products.

>Keep on going. Once you have quit smoking, stay busy -- exercise, clean your home.

>Build healthy habits. Drink lots of water and change the habits that used to make you want to smoke.

>If at first you don’t succeed... If you relapse, think about what caused you to light up again, and try to stay away from those situations. Do not give up; try again!

Resources to Help
The California Smokers Helpline, (800) NO-BUTTS, is a free statewide telephone service that helps people quit smoking tobacco. The help line offers six free one-on-one cessation services over the phone with a trained counselor. Services are available in English, (800) 662-8887; Spanish, (800) 456-6386; and other languages. You can also visit the b>California Smokers Helpline website for additional information.