I am not a smoker, and have never been a smoker. Not being a smoker makes it hard for me to address this topic because I’ve seen friends and loved ones struggle with abstaining from tobacco use despite negative health consequences and the science behind smoking cessation. I don’t think there is anyone who doubts the negative health effects of cigarette smoking, but despite that it places a firm hold on people’s brains and does not want to let go. Smoking becomes very tied to life events which makes quitting even harder: after meals, after sex, to calm down when you’re stressed, a chance to connect with coworkers midday, or when you’re out drinking or dancing or partying. Smoking becomes very ingrained in people’s day-to-day processes, and in order to quit smoking, there has to be the mental preparation to accompany the body as it goes through nicotine withdrawal and relearning routines and behaviors.
As for living with HIV and smoking…well, I think we have the deck stacked against us as is so I think it is important for our health as PLWHA that we don’t use tobacco products (smoking, chewing, or vaping) and try to live healthy lives in general. I’m not always good at it…I don’t exercise enough, I could eat healthier, and I can almost always use more sleep. But I try, and I think it’s the same thing with smoking. If you are a smoker, keep trying to cut back and keep quitting until it sticks. You’ll breathe better, your immune system will function better, you’ll save money, you’ll smell better (as in your clothes won’t smell like smoke AND you’ll actually be able to smell the flowers) and you’ll get time back in your schedule that was reserved for smoking. I know I’m saying what a hundred doctors and friends and television ads have told you, but from one PLWHA to another, you are worth quitting cigarettes. You are worth being undetectable. You are worth the whole package. Make yourself a priority, and do everything in your power to give yourself the best, healthiest life you can have. Last time I checked, we only get one shot at this.