News Release

Study aims to improve tobacco treatment delivery for people with HIV

MUSC Hollings Cancer Center researchers to evaluate impact of proactive opt-out approach to smoking cessation interventions

Grant and Award Announcement

Medical University of South Carolina

Alana Rojewski

image: Dr. Alana Rojewski is leading an effort to address lung cancer and smoking-related complications for HIV patients, a growing problem in this population. view more 

Credit: Sarah Pack/MUSC

Researchers at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center have received more than $2 million from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to evaluate the impact of a proactive opt-out approach to smoking cessation on the health outcomes of people living with HIV.

The project, led by Hollings Cancer Control Program researcher Alana Rojewski, Ph.D., is designed to define best practices for connecting and engaging people with HIV with existing evidence-based interventions that can help them to quit smoking. The study will also look at barriers to current intervention strategies and ways to increase the number of people receiving tobacco treatment.

Roughly 40% to 50% of people with HIV smoke - a rate that's more than double or triple the 15.5% smoking rate that exists in the general U.S. population. This high rate of tobacco use is a major contributing factor to lung cancer incidence and mortality among people with HIV. Lung cancer is now the leading cause of cancer deaths in this population.

Advances in antiretroviral therapy mean people with HIV are living longer and are less likely to die from AIDS-related complications. A recent study found that people with HIV who adhered to their antiretroviral therapy and continued to smoke were six to 13 times more likely to die from lung cancer than AIDS-related causes.

According to Rojewski, this shift means a greater focus is needed on non-AIDS-related health conditions in this population, including lung cancer and other smoking-related complications.

"There are numerous sociodemographic factors that contribute to the high rate of smoking among people with HIV, including race, education level, socioeconomic status and other medical and psychiatric comorbidities. This can be partly attributed to decades of aggressive marketing by the tobacco industry toward these populations, and we are still seeing the ramifications in terms of high rates of smoking and associated health complications," said Rojewski, associate director of MUSC Health's Tobacco Treatment Program.

"By studying how we are delivering tobacco treatment to people with HIV, this study will provide critical evidence to refine delivery and implementation strategies and holds promise for future dissemination to clinics in South Carolina and across the nation."

Instead of waiting for people with HIV who smoke to seek treatment for their tobacco use, the intervention used in this study will consist of a tobacco treatment specialist proactively contacting all patients to assess smoking status. The treatment specialist will then provide a brief motivational interview and counseling and a mail-order prescription for varenicline, a medication used to treat nicotine addiction, or dual-form nicotine replacement therapy.

The intervention will use an opt-out approach, meaning all patients who smoke will receive treatment unless they indicate that they don't want it. Because the intervention will be done entirely remotely, the researchers hope the approach will make evidence-based smoking cessation treatments available to more people with HIV in health care settings across the country.

Prior research has shown that proactive tobacco treatment increases the likelihood of treatment engagement and downstream cessation. Offering cessation treatment in an opt-out fashion also has been shown to increase patient reach and the likelihood that patients will quit smoking, and the approach ensures all patients have access to treatment even if they aren't currently motivated to quit.

Through this study, Hollings researchers hope to prove similar benefits can be achieved for people with HIV.

"Most people have to seek out options for tobacco treatment, which requires a great deal of motivation. And even still, they may encounter barriers," said Rojewski. "By optimizing the delivery of effective tobacco treatments for people living with HIV, we hope to increase the number of people receiving tobacco treatment, increase tobacco cessation rates and reduce the risk of morbidity and mortality from smoking-related causes."


For more information on resources to help you to quit smoking, visit the Hollings website or call the MUSC Health Tobacco Treatment Program at 843-792-9101 to make an appointment.

This research is supported by NCI grant CA261232.

About MUSC

Founded in 1824 in Charleston, MUSC is the oldest medical school in the South as well as the state's only integrated academic health sciences center with a unique charge to serve the state through education, research and patient care. Each year, MUSC educates and trains more than 3,000 students and nearly 800 residents in six colleges: Dental Medicine, Graduate Studies, Health Professions, Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy. The state's leader in obtaining biomedical research funds, in fiscal year 2019, MUSC set a new high, bringing in more than $284 million. For information on academic programs, visit

As the clinical health system of the Medical University of South Carolina, MUSC Health is dedicated to delivering the highest quality patient care available while training generations of competent, compassionate health care providers to serve the people of South Carolina and beyond. Comprising some 1,600 beds, more than 100 outreach sites, the MUSC College of Medicine, the physicians' practice plan and nearly 275 telehealth locations, MUSC Health owns and operates eight hospitals situated in Charleston, Chester, Florence, Lancaster and Marion counties. In 2020, for the sixth consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report named MUSC Health the No. 1 hospital in South Carolina. To learn more about clinical patient services, visit

MUSC and its affiliates have collective annual budgets of $3.2 billion. The more than 17,000 MUSC team members include world-class faculty, physicians, specialty providers and scientists who deliver groundbreaking education, research, technology and patient care

About MUSC Hollings Cancer Center

MUSC Hollings Cancer Center is a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center and the largest academic-based cancer research program in South Carolina. The cancer center comprises more than 100 faculty cancer scientists and 20 academic departments. It has an annual research funding portfolio of more than $44 million and a dedication to reducing the cancer burden in South Carolina. Hollings offers state-of-the-art diagnostic capabilities, therapies and surgical techniques within multidisciplinary clinics that include surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation therapists, radiologists, pathologists, psychologists and other specialists equipped for the full range of cancer care, including more than 200 clinical trials. For more information, visit

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