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02 Mar 2015

Who knew? Smoking is bad for you. Jake Kendall reports the obvious.

Yet another study measuring the effects of smoking on positive people has thrown up predictable results: cigarettes kill. A joint US-European study has found the life-expectancy of a 35-year-old man living with HIV is reduced by eight years due to smoking. Eight years.

Chuffing on a ciggie increases the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and non-AIDS-related cancers. “Smoking was associated with a two-fold increase in mortality,” said the study’s authors. “More than a third of all non-AIDS-related malignant deaths were from lung cancer and all deaths from lung cancer were in smokers.”

And the benefits of not smoking were equally strikingly clear. HIV-positive non-smokers who were doing well on antiretroviral therapy had a similar life expectancy to non-smokers in the general population. The study also showed that people who had stopped smoking had a markedly lower risk of death compared with current smokers “pointing towards potential benefits of including smoking cessation interventions in HIV care”, write the authors.

They concluded: “HIV-infected individuals with long-term engagement in care may lose more life years through smoking than through HIV.” So the take-home message to positive smokers? Quit! Now!

If only it was that easy. Research suggests nicotine is as addictive as heroin and cocaine. And for those scoffing at that, consider this: an addictive drug is defined as one that will be repeatedly self-administered, even though there is no medical reason for it — and even though the user is aware that the habitual use of the drug is causing them harm.

Smoking defies logic. And the logic is simple: by quitting you’ll improve the quality and the length of your life. So you’re stubbing out, right? OK, there are three stages to giving up the ciggies.

  • Stage one: plan ahead. Set a date — and stick by it. Get rid of ashtrays and lighters. Ask mates for support. Gradually cut down the fags in the weeks before the Big Day. Identify your smoking triggers and patterns, and change your routine.
  • Stage two: acute nicotine withdrawal. Symptoms may include sleepiness, headaches, constipation, irritability, anxiety, tension, mood swings and gnawing at your elbows. The good news is this living hell will only last for a week or so.
  • Stage three: cravings become less frequent. But don't become complacent as most people relapse within the first three months. You’ll be at a party, say, and suddenly realise you’re puffing away like the Flying Scotsman. If you cave, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, learn from failed attempts and think of them as practice sessions. It’s all part of the process.

If you have difficulty going cold turkey, there are other quitting methods you could try such as nicotine patches and prescription medications. Alternatively, you could try hypnotherapy, or acupuncture. However you go about it, keep at it. You can beat it. Remember: eight years…