Updated: Nov 6
For Immediate Release: October 27, 2023; Houston, TX
Quitting smoking can feel like an unpredictable rollercoaster ride, leaving smokers grappling with nicotine cravings and anxiety simultaneously. While tobacco use has been slowly declining in the U.S., lung cancer is still the leading cause of death of people living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), according to the National Cancer Institute. Over 1.2 million people are living with HIV, and an estimated 34-47 percent smoke cigarettes.
“If you are HIV positive and you’re a smoker, you are more likely to die from smoking-related illnesses than HIV,” University of Houston researcher Dr. Lorra Garey explained. “You have these two factors that are coming together that are disproportionately impacting communities of color.”
In a new HEALTH–RCMI pilot study, Garey will develop culturally tailored materials to improve smoking cessation and HIV care among Latinx adults. The Notice of Special Interest (NOSI) study is entitled, Development of Culturally Tailored Content for Smoking Cessation and HIV Care Improvement among Latinx adults. The initiative was funded $493,252 by NIMHD and HEALTH–RCMI [P.I. Dr. Ezemenari Obasi]. Garey is a Research Assistant Professor at the University of Houston and a Co-Director of UH’s RESTORE Laboratory.
“When you look at the data, smoking is still a leading preventable cause of death and disability in the U.S.,”Garey said. “What we must do is take a more nuanced approach to understanding communities that are affected most and think about how we can develop material and intervention content to help alleviate the health disparities that are now concentrated in certain communities.”
Through this initiative, Garey plans to create smoking cessation and HIV care materials and content for three subgroups of the Latinx population, including Mexican/Mexican Americans, South Americans and Central Americans.
“At the end of this study, we will have culturally tailored content for all three subgroups of the larger Hispanic population,” Garey said. “I think that’s really important, because the more literature that comes out on this larger group of individuals, the more there’s recognition that there are unique cultural differences across groups.”
In a collaboration with Thomas Street Community Clinic, Garey will recruit 40 Mexican and Mexican Americans who are HIV positive, current smokers and who are also interested in quitting smoking. They will be introduced to a subset of videos, and the participants will offer feedback on how helpful and culturally appropriate the videos are. This process will be initiated among 20 Central and 20 South Americans.
Based upon participants’ feedback, the researchers will refine the script and update the videos, providing a set of videos which are culturally tailored for Mexican and Mexican Americans, Central Americans and South Americans.
“I’m particularly excited about our approach.” Garey said. “We are taking a more culture-centered approach. By doing this work, we are continuing to educate and inform the research community on the importance of doing culturally-based and culturally-informed research that is specific for groups that experience health disparities. We will get to a point where we are actively addressing these health disparities in a way that makes real sense and where we can see real change.”
Garey’s NOSI project is an extension to the previous MASP+ research initiative which focuses on helping Black Americans and African Americans quit smoking and better manage HIV care. Through a partnership with the Texas Developmental Center for AIDS Research (Texas D-CFAR), Garey’s initiative will have more resources from experts who are specifically focused on HIV research.
“While working on that project, it became very evident to us that there needed to be something specifically developed for people in the Hispanic community,” Garey said. “I’m really excited that our first jump start into this space was with MASP+ project that focuses on Black American and African American individuals. Now we’ve being able to pivot to another community, Latin Americans and Hispanic subgroups to further refine and adapt our content.”
Garey emphasized how crucial it was to research how the Latinx population is directly impacted by HIV and tobacco use and provide culturally sensitive materials to improve health outcomes. According to the Centers for Disease Control, cancer heart disease and stroke which can be caused by cigarette smoke are among the five leading causes of death among Latinx people.
“HIV is not a death sentence like it used to be. HIV is more or less a chronic disease,” Garey said. “If people adhere to their medication, life expectancy for someone who is HIV positive can be comparable to someone who does not have HIV. Yet, not all communities are benefiting equally from the advances in medication and treatment that make this a reality among those
with HIV. This has largely contributed to HIV-related health disparities. That is why it is important to continue to do this work in a systematic, culturally tailored way.”
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