HIV, Tobacco Use, and Poverty: A Potential Cause of Disparities in Health Status by Race and Socioeconomic Status


Tobacco use in the U.S. has declined significantly since the 1960s, but differentially by socioeconomic status. Current HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection rates in the United States are higher in minorities and underprivileged individuals. Effective highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART) has changed HIV into a chronic infection. Mortality among HIV patients is now as likely to be due to heart disease and cancers as HIV-related infections. In the current situation, one would expect public insurance plans to focus on interventions targeting lifestyle-associated behaviors such as tobacco use that have been found to be associated with increased risk for heart disease and cancers. Review of the AIDS Drug Assistance Program formularies and the Medicaid Programs of 50 states and the District of Columbia, however, revealed that coverage for smoking cessation is inadequate in most instances. To reduce health disparities, publicly funded programs that serve the nation’s most vulnerable should provide coverage for effective tobacco cessation.