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Tobacco and HIV: District Residents Deserve all the Facts.


The DC Center received a tobacco advocacy grant about a year ago. We spent a long time thinking about what policy change we were going to advocate for within the field of tobacco.

We consulted with our community partners: The Latino GLBT History Project, the DC Trans Coalition, Transgender Health Empowerment, MetroTeen AIDS, SMYAL, and Capital Pride. We had various presentations to our partners including a insightful presentation by Dr. Ann Labriola from the VA Medical Center on tobacco and HIV.

After careful thought and community discussion, we decided to address the issue of Tobacco and HIV. Why? Well consider this comment from Joe Izzo, who recently signed our petition:

I’ve worked as a psychotherapist with people with HIV/AIDS for the last 26 years. The last four clients with HIV, all of whom were smokers, died of emphysema, lung cancer and two with pneumonia that was not responsive to treatment because their lungs were so damaged from smoking. – Joe Izzo

We all know the good news. Many people living with HIV/AIDS who have access to treatment and care are living longer, more productive lives. HIV can be manageable as a chronic disease. People living with HIV can enjoy healthy lives.   We also know the reality. The diseases HIV positive individuals are dying from are not the same diseases that we watched people die from in the past.

Chronic diseases are a major factor in the survival rates and quality of life of HIV-infected patients. … chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, stroke, cardiovascular disease and cancers. We all know the connections.  For people living with HIV, remaining smoke-free is one of the most important things you can do to maintain your health and your future.

Smoking weakens the immune system, and makes it even harder to fight off opportunistic infections associated with HIV. Smoking also increases the risk of HIV-associated malignancies and other cancers found among people living with HIV/AIDS. Further, HIV positive individuals who are at greater risk for heart disease because of lypodystrophy, significantly compound that risk by smoking.

Here in DC we know that at least three percent of our population is HIV positive, it is estimated that this number could be as high as five percent, or 1 of every 20 people in the District.

HIV positive individuals smoke at higher rates than the general population, and they suffer disproportionate health outcomes. We believe that people living with HIV in our city deserve all the facts about smoking and HIV. With the support of local advocacy groups like the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance and the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, we call on our city council to make sure specific warnings about smoking and HIV are posted anywhere an individual can purchase cigarettes in the District of Columbia. This may be an unrealistic goal, but I would love to see these warnings be in place by the time the International AIDS Conference comes to the District in July 2012.

Personally, I hope that one day, one of the several Surgeon General’s warning messages on cigarette packs is a warning that specifically address smoking and HIV. We are, however, starting at the local level. And we need your help.

Take a moment and sign our change.org petition and tell the DC City Council, that in a city where as many as 1 out of every 20 people is living with HIV, residents of our city deserve to have all the facts about smoking and HIV.

In closing thank you to Justin Johns, who has done an amazing  job with our partner organizations. Thank you to all our supporting local organizations mentioned above, and thanks to Dr. Ann Labriola from VA Medical Center for her work in this area and her encouragement to move this initiative forward.

Sign our change.org petition today!

Click here to sign the petition now.

David Mariner is the Executive Director of the DC Center for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community (www.thedccenter.org).  The DC Center is proud to be the host organization for the 2012 National Gay Men’s Health Summit.  Learn more about the summit at www.gmhs2012.org.

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