Snuffing It Out

BY HIV Plus Editors

September 01 2010 12:00 AM ET

Having previously worked to document health-related problems associated with the high rate of smoking among HIVers, researchers are now turning their attention to how to get these smokers to kick the habit.

Jenine K. Harris, Ph.D., an associate professor of community health at the Saint Louis University School of Public Health, examined the kinds of research conducted on smoking among HIVers from 1980 to 2008. With results published in the American Journal of Public Health, Harris's study found the vast majority of research ' 237 of the 272 published articles ' looked at the relationship between smoking and HIV disease. However, fewer than 2% of the articles examined the effectiveness of interventions aimed at preventing or reducing smoking among HIVers.

'The accumulation of nearly two decades of discovery research leaves little doubt,' Harris says, 'that smoking is a widespread problem and a major modifiable risk factor for disease and death in people living with HIV.'

Researchers admit, though, that they don't know the best strategy to help people living with HIV to quit or not even start smoking. Typically, specialized smoking-cessation programs that target specific populations can be effective; however, few studies have examined targeted smoking-cessation programs for HIVers. One study found that a standard smoking-cessation program would not help 86% of smokers living with the virus.

Harris says it's time for researchers to connect the dots between the health problems associated with HIV and smoking and effective ways to help HIVers to quit: 'The delay between discovery of smoking-related health outcomes in people living with HIV/AIDS and the delivery of interventions to reduce smoking among this population has serious consequences.'

To speed the process of finding solutions, Harris suggests that both researchers and clinicians collaborate with experts on tobacco cessation who understand how targeted programs work. In addition, she says, researchers who are examining the link between smoking and HIV and those who are looking at effective programs need to work closer together. The ultimate goal, she explains, is to look at the evidence of what works to come up with effective programs that curb the smoking.

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