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Fresh pack of warnings: Smokers more likely to get HIV

By Walter Armstrong

People who smoke cigarettes are 60 percent to 300 percent more likely to get HIV than nonsmokers, British researchers announced last Thursday. While the news didn't exactly make Big Ben ring—after all, no one was claiming the habit has any health benefits—it does confirm previous findings that link smoking to other STDs.

The researchers analyzed six studies that had already looked at the smoking-AIDS connection. All but one had found that the rate of HIV was two to four times higher among smokers, whether in the U.S., Haiti, Rwanda or Thailand. After adjusting for possible error, the docs came up with their own lower, but still alarming, estimate.

Ever cautious, they point out that the studies, though "strikingly consistent," were not designed "to demonstrate a causal relation" between smoking and HIV. "But the size of the effect," they said, "would indicate a magnitude of public health importance." That's labspeak for "Smokers, beware."

What no one yet knows is, Why the close connection? But scientists are paid to hypothesize, and these Brits have two theories: Smoking, in addition to killing you, damages your immune system, lowering your defenses to the big, bad bug. And/or smoking and HIV infection are both behaviors that result from the same underlying attitude—call it risk-taking...or pleasure-loving, present-focused or self-destructive.

Of course, none of this likely applies to our readers, since our previous RealJock surveys have revealed that almost none our members smoke cigarettes. Or do they?