HIV & Smoking


Thanks to advances in treatment, people living with HIV/AIDS who use antiretroviral therapy (ART) can expect to live as long as people who don't have HIV.

If you are HIV-positive and smoke, you're not alone. Smoking is much more common among people living with HIV/AIDS than people without HIV.

Stopping smoking is especially important for people living with HIV/AIDS. Tobacco use causes one-quarter of deaths among people living with HIV/AIDS. It also can speed up the progression from HIV to AIDS.

The good news is that EX can help!

Smoking Makes People with HIV/AIDS Sicker, Faster

Smoking cigarettes can speed up the process of moving from HIV infection to AIDS. Compared to non-smokers, people living with HIV/AIDS who smoke will see:

  • Faster drops in CD4 cell counts
  • Increased risk of bacterial pneumonia and tuberculosis
  • Increased risk of HIV-related cancers

Smoking Cancels the Benefits of Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART)

In general, people living with HIV/AIDS who use ART can live as long as people without HIV. But, for people who smoke, the story is quite different. People living with HIV/AIDS using ART who smoke will live an average of 12 years less than non-smokers.

Smoking seems to reduce the effectiveness of HIV medications. It also weakens your immune system.

The bottom line: an HIV-positive person who smokes can lose more life years from smoking than from HIV.

Quitting Smoking When You're HIV-Positive

Quitting smoking is good for everyone. But for HIV-positive smokers, there are some specific benefits. Bacterial pneumonia is the most frequent lung infection among HIV-positive smokers. It can be deadly. Quitting smoking will greatly reduce your risk of bacterial pneumonia.

There are lots of other benefits to quitting smoking, too. It’s a huge accomplishment and many people say that it boosts their confidence. Think of all the money you'll have for other things once you quit. You'll also smell fresh, instead of having smoke as your signature scent.

Medication Options

You can read general information about quit smoking medicines here. For HIV-positive smokers, here’s what you need to know about quitting medications:

  • There aren't any known interactions between the nicotine patch, gum, and lozenge and ART.
  • No interactions have been found between varenicline (also known as Chantix) and ART.
  • Your HIV doctor may not want you to use bupropion (also known as Wellbutrin) if you are taking high-dose protease inhibitors.

Talk with your healthcare provider about which quit smoking medication is best for you.

Feeling Supported While Quitting

It’s common to feel anxious or stressed about managing your HIV or the cost of treatment. It’s important to get support while you’re quitting. Your HIV doctor may not feel he/she has enough time or training to help you quit.

The good news is that the EX Community can help!

It’s easy to use and anonymous. There are people online around the clock who understand what quitting is like. Connecting with other tobacco users who are quitting - and ones that have already quit - can help you feel less lonely. We're here 24/7 for as long as you need help quitting smoking.

Other Health Issues and Benefits of Quitting