HIV-positive smoker tries to quit one cigarette at a time

Jul 19, 2016

We all know cigarettes are bad for you, and it’s incredibly hard to quit. It takes most people between five and eight attempts to actually quit, according to a Farid Shamo, a public health consultant with the Tobacco Control Program the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Lately, DHHS is focusing on a particular group: people with HIV. Half of them smoke.

 


April Anderson was born in Grayling. At 53, she's HIV positive and trying to quit smoking. She says she's been smoking since she was 10, "ever since I could sneak cigarettes from my mom and dad." 

April says she was a chain smoker. She couldn’t go anywhere without a cigarette. Even indoors where she couldn’t smoke, she’d have one dangling unlit from her mouth.  

"The cigarettes are everywhere. Every store you walk into, everywhere you go, they're everywhere." -April Anderson

"Smoking used to be cool," April says. "That’s the way they used to advertise it on TV. When I was growing up, they used to have cigarette advertisements. Marlboro Man. Marlboro’s were it. You know, Raleighs. Cools. Salems."

April says now it’s just not cool. 

"People look at you, and they're just kind of like ‘ew,'" she says.

Trying to quit

April has quit smoking a few times. One time she quit cold turkey. She lasted two days. She quit again last October. But, she says, addiction is hard.

"[Addiction is] like having to go pee so bad that you can’t hold it," April says, "and you’re doing that pee pee dance."

She says you make that feeling go away by having a cigarette. That’s what April did again this spring. She had a cigarette after being smoke-free for around eight months.

April thought it would be easy to quit cigarettes, like it was for her to quit drugs and alcohol 15 years ago.

"The drugs I can get away from," says April. "The cigarettes are everywhere. Every store you walk into, everywhere you go, they’re everywhere.

 

April Anderson takes a drag of her cigarette. She's trying to quit one cigarette at a time.
Credit Morgan Springer

Smoking while HIV positive

April gets help from Munson Medical Center's Thomas Judd Care Center in Traverse City. The center provides services for people with HIV and AIDS. 

"Basically it intensifies the disease process. So anything that would happen to a normal person with aging happens quicker with HIV, and then when you smoke on top of that, it happens even faster." - Victoria Cammarata

April was diagnosed with HIV in 2002, a year after she quit drugs and alcohol. She started going to the center shortly after her diagnoses.

Victoria Cammarata, the complex care coordinator at the center, has been working with HIV positive patients to help them quit smoking. The center serves around 150 HIV patients. 40 to 50 percent of them smoke –similar to the state average, and around 10 of them have quit.

It’s not clear why half of people with HIV smoke, but according to Shamo, a public health consultant in the Tobacco Control Program, people with HIV often fall under three groups that tend to smoke already: the LGBT community, substance abusers and people with mental health challenges. April fits all three categories.

Victoria says HIV makes the health effects of smoking even worse. 

"Basically it intensifies the disease process," she says. "So anything that would happen to a normal person with aging happens quicker with HIV, and then when you smoke on top of that, it happens even faster."

Still smoking

April says she's down from two packs of cigarettes a day to 12 cigarettes. She smokes Basic Reds, and she says it’s $7.60 a pack, more incentive to quit.

"Come on," she says about the cost per pack. "I can save that money and take  a trip to Florida and see my granddaughter." Her granddaughter was born four months ago, and April wants to set a good example for her.

Of course, the problem is that April enjoys smoking.

"I like to have that cigarette after dinner," she says. "I like to sit around my porch and kick back and have a cigarette."

She says when she smokes she feels relaxed.

"Just kind of chilled. [I] say, ‘ok cool,'" April says.

April has a few quitting tricks up her sleeve: only bring some cigarettes in the pack with her to work, smoke half a cigarette instead of a whole or wait an extra half hour before having her next cigarette.

"[Addiction is] like having to go pee so bad that you can't hold it, and you're doing that pee pee dance." - April Anderson

"If I don’t focus on it, it’s ok," she says. "It doesn’t drive me nuts. If I find something to do to stay busy. But if I’m just sitting at home doing nothing. Let’s say I had a cigarette and ten minutes later I want another one and there’s nothing to do. It drives me nuts. I just sit there and focus on it. ‘I want to smoke a cigarette. I want to smoke a cigarette. I want a cigarette.’”

It’s a challenge. She’s trying to take it one cigarette at a time.

April has a couple of things motivating her to quit. Her friends. Her family –particularly her granddaughter. But mostly she says she’s quitting for her, and she says that’s what’s different this time around.

Her goal is to quit by the end of this summer.

"And if not, well, I guess I’ll just have to keep trying," April says, "because I will be quit by Christmas for sure."