Why We Stand for Clean Air

Lung health begins with the air you breathe.

Polluted air puts everyone’s lungs at risk for asthma, COPD, and even lung cancer. And our loved ones living with asthma and COPD may experience worse symptoms on bad air quality days.

Unfortunately, more than 137 million Americans – over 40 percent – live in communities with unhealthy levels of air pollution.

We cannot create a world free of lung disease without addressing this. Cleaner air will help prevent lung disease and protect the health of people who already live with these conditions.

You can spring into action by supporting our clean air efforts during the month of May.

RHA is one of the leading health voices in the Illinois environmental community. We are dedicated to connecting the dangers of air pollution to health impacts. Our collaborations are leading to some exciting new opportunities that promise cleaner air and healthier lungs for everyone.

  • We recently released a study with researchers at UW-Madison that shows positive health impacts of using clean energy. A transition to power sources like wind and solar may prevent nearly 2,000 people in Illinois from having lung problems (like asthma flare-ups) due to air pollution every year. You can read the full report here. Research like this is key to pass laws that will help everyone in Illinois breathe easier.
  • Along with other groups, we are working toward a clean air future by supporting the Illinois Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA). This bill will reduce air pollution by focusing on renewable energy sources and electric transportation options. This includes significant investment in electric transit buses and charging hubs for personal vehicles. In addition, it includes a plan that converts Illinois to 100% renewable electricity by 2030.
  • After years of RHA’s advocacy efforts, the governor announced a new plan in April that will allocate the remaining funds from a 2018 VW settlement for electrifying school buses, which contribute greatly to diesel pollution. Additionally, funds will be used for charging hubs across Illinois to promote electric car ownership.
  • This past year, RHA partnered with organizations and residents in Chicago’s Southeast Side to protest the move of General Iron, a heavy polluting company, to their neighborhood. In May, the city announced a pause on the permitting process. They plan to do a more in-depth study into the health impacts of the move. We are hopeful this will result in a permit denial and commitment to protecting a community long plagued by unequal exposure to air pollution.

Only with your support can we continue the fight to protect our lungs from the damaging effects of air pollution. Together we can create a clean air future for all!

For this month only, a group of generous donors from RHA’s leadership have agreed to match every dollar raised up to $5,000. Donate now. 

Clean Air Protects Lung Health

earth day clean air healthy lungs

Did you know more than 137 million Americans live in communities with unhealthy levels of air pollution? Clean air is critical to protecting lung health. While air pollution is bad for anyone to breathe, it is especially dangerous for people living with asthma, COPD, and other lung conditions.

Breathing polluted air can irritate your lungs and may cause shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, asthma flare-ups, and chest pain. It also puts you at risk for lung cancer, heart attacks, stroke, and even death.

While we continue to make progress, air pollution remains a serious environmental and health problem. Additionally, as global warming accelerates, climate change will impact public health and put people living with lung disease at additional risk.

By taking small steps together, we can protect our air and our health. Watch this message from Joel Africk, RHA’s President & Chief Executive Officer.

How to Protect Lung Health and Promote Clean Air

  • Walk, bike, or use public transportation when possible.
  • Try to reduce your waste and recycle.
  • Try to avoid gasoline-powered lawn equipment like leaf blowers.
  • Raise awareness by telling people about the importance of clean air. Sharing this message on social media is a great start!
  • Advocate healthy lungs and clean air for all with us!

Sharing Hope for a Future Free of Lung Disease

As we close out a year of many challenges, I am proud of all we have accomplished at Respiratory Health Association (RHA). Together, we have continued to reach for a future free of lung disease.

With the support of our dearest friends, supporters, and partners this year, we made some amazing progress.

Five things give me hope for a brighter tomorrow.

 

Our amazing Making a Difference Volunteers

They give me hope and inspiration in their dedication and support of healthy lungs and clean air for all. Whether riding CowaLUNGa to support kids who have asthma or working with people committed to quit smoking, these awardees have lived RHA’s mission and they are amazing.

collage of photos

RHA’s resilient program staff

When respiratory therapists paused their pulmonary rehabilitation programs for patients living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and shifted to help care for COVID-19 patients, RHA stepped up and provided much-needed patient resources. RHA’s new Project STRENGTH (Support for Transitioning Rehabilitation and Exercise Now Going to Home) offers exercise routines and breathing tips COPD patients can use at home.

girl behind sewing machine and face masksOne of RHA’s Next Generation Advocates, Mia Fritsch-Anderson

Mia, a high schooler who lives with asthma, made more than 3,500 masks over the last nine months. Mia donates masks to people in need and sells some with all the proceeds going to charities doing important work during the pandemic.

Our local research community

These scientists have worked tirelessly over the last year to find treatments and new vaccines for COVID-19. The collaboration across the industry has saved countless lives, and RHA is excited to help promote the vaccine in the new year.

Our environmental policy staff and partners

Amidst the pandemic, they have continued to fight for equitable clean air policies and to reduce climate change. The air we breathe has a direct effect on our lungs, and these advocates are committed to protecting the air to ensure we can all breathe better.

These people, and their tremendous work, give me hope for a brighter tomorrow.

Please join us and make a gift today to help create a tomorrow where everyone breathes easier.

Thank you for being a part of Respiratory Health Association’s community.

Have a happy new year,

Joel J. Africk
President and Chief Executive Officer

Mia Gives Hope for a Future Where Everyone Breathes Easier

girl behind sewing machine and face masks

Mia has produced over 3,500 masks to help people during the pandemic.

Throughout the years, young people have challenged society to do better and often advocate a different future – the future they wish to inherit.

This year was no exception, and Respiratory Health Association was driven by passionate young people toward a future where everyone breathes easier. One of these young advocates, Mia Fritsch-Anderson, eagerly stepped up to make a difference during the early days of the pandemic.

Mia has been working with RHA since her asthma diagnosis at age five. She has championed asthma protections for students and smoke-free policies at the local and state levels.

When COVID-19 began to spread, Mia was immediately aware of the extra warnings for people living with lung disease. Mia and her family have taken all the necessary precautions to ensure she avoids getting COVID-19, which could lead to a more severe infection because of her asthma. However, she still wanted to find a way to safely continue her work helping the community – and alleviate her feeling of helplessness from being stuck inside.

Mia used her sewing skills to make masks for essential workers and people at increased risk. By June, Mia had made 500 masks. She worked with RHA staff to identify People for Community Recovery, one of our community partner’s on Chicago’s South Side, to help distribute the masks to people in need. Together, we provided the masks and much needed bottled water to teens with asthma and their families.

As the pandemic stretches on, Mia hasn’t stopped making masks. By her last estimate, Mia had made over 3,500 masks! She continues to provide them to people in need and has opened an Etsy shop to sell extras, donating the proceeds to Respiratory Health Association and other charities doing important work during the pandemic.

Teens like Mia continue to inspire us. RHA works hard to advocate with them – creating a world where we can breathe easy. During this year, we have continued to advocate stronger support of our health care system during the pandemic, stronger protections against tobacco companies’ predatory marketing, and stronger air pollution standards.

2021 promises to be a year of change as we join our community partners in advocating support for asthma management programs and the Clean Energy Jobs Act in Illinois, which will protect the air we breathe.

You can join us in celebrating a hopeful future by making a donation this giving season.

New Report Shows Higher Rates of Lung Disease Near Chicago’s Busiest Transit Bus Routes

For Immediate Release

September 11, 2020

Contact:

Brian Urbaszewski

[email protected]

312-405-1175

New Report Shows Higher Rates of Lung Disease Near Chicago’s Busiest Transit Bus Routes

Data Highlight Urgent Need for Electrification Across City’s Fleet

CHICAGO – Respiratory Health Association (RHA) and University of Chicago Center for Spatial Data Science (CSDS) released findings of a year-long study indicating higher rates of asthma and COPD near several bus routes and garage locations across the city of Chicago. The study, which referenced data from Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is the first to examine lung disease prevalence in relation to Chicago’s bus routes.

The report analyzed 125 permanent CTA bus routes, classifying seven routes with an average of at least 20,000 riders per day and covering at least seven miles as high-traffic routes. Researchers found residents living within 500 meters (about 1600 feet) of these routes had asthma rates of 11.08%, which is 8.4% greater than the overall city rate. Those living within 500 meters of these routes had a 6.69% COPD rate, 10.6% higher than overall rate across the city. Additionally, residents living closest to any of the CTA’s seven bus garages had asthma rates more than 12% greater than the citywide average and COPD rates 23.6% greater than the citywide average.

“We already know that the air pollution produced by vehicles, including the diesel-powered buses which make up most of the CTA’s current fleet, is dangerous for people’s lungs,” commented Joel Africk, RHA President and Chief Executive Officer. “The higher rates of asthma and COPD along those busy routes – where residents are some of the most vulnerable in the city – show how important it is to replace diesel buses with electric models to improve air quality and protect everyone’s health.”

The report includes recommendations for priority routes to place electric vehicles as well as potential funding sources to support needed infrastructure. It was provided to CTA officials as part of its ongoing strategic planning efforts, which also include plans to reduce pollution produced by city transit vehicles. In 2019, Mayor Lightfoot’s transition team endorsed a goal of fully electrifying the CTA bus fleet and the Chicago City Council passed a resolution supporting complete electrification of CTA by 2040.

“Identifying socially vulnerable areas at greater risk of pollution exposure remains an important area of future research in the work of environmental justice and reducing health disparities,” noted Marynia Kolak, Assistant Director for Health Informatics at the Center for Spatial Data Science. “While these associations are complex, reducing the transit dimension of traffic pollution via electrification is a critical need for the city.”

“Federal, state, and local elected officials need to dedicate the resources needed for the Chicago Transit Authority to accelerate the city’s transition to electric buses,” Africk continued, “so residents – especially those living with lung disease – can enjoy the important health benefits cleaner transportation provides.”

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 Respiratory Health Association (RHA) has been a local public health leader in Chicago since 1906. RHA works to prevent lung disease, promote clean air and help people live better through education, research and policy change. To learn more, visit www.resphealth.org.

Opposition to Proposed Watered-Down Chicago Tobacco Control Ordinance

For Immediate Release

September 4, 2020

 

Opposition to Proposed Watered-Down Chicago Tobacco Control Ordinance

 

September 4, 2020 – Chicago, IL – Today the Chicago City Council Committee on Health and Human Relations met to vote on a revised and greatly weakened ordinance to regulate the sale of flavored tobacco products in Chicago. Respiratory Health Association’s President & Chief Executive Officer, Joel Africk, has issued the following statement in opposition to the revised ordinance. This statement was originally given as testimony during the committee meeting.

“Good morning Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee. Respiratory Health Association opposes the watered-down flavored tobacco substitute ordinance.  Chicago needs restrictions on all flavored and menthol products, including conventional cigarettes that are killing our vulnerable communities.  This ordinance is unanimously opposed by Respiratory Health Association, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, and the American Lung Association—the local patient service organizations who have spent the past 30 years advising Chicago government on tobacco control policy.

For almost 20 years—and until today– Chicago has had an unblemished record of getting tough on Big Tobacco. That record has driven smoking rates in Chicago to their lowest rates on record.  In each case, the key has been to reject the watered-down versions of laws deemed as more acceptable to the tobacco industry.  You see, the Big Tobacco playbook says to oppose tobacco control until it is inevitable, and then water it down as much as possible to preserve cigarette sales.  That tactic works because the watered-down ordinances relieve the political pressure to do something more comprehensive. That’s a pretty effective tactic.   Watered-down ordinances relieve political pressure.  And the legislature can always claim “at least we did something.”

In December 2005, with unanimous support from the service organizations, this Council passed one of the strongest smoke-free laws in the United States, under the leadership of Ald. Ed Smith.  The Council did so because it didn’t take a watered-down deal. There were offers of watered-down deals. “No smoking in restaurants but not bars.”  “Exclude Chicago’s private clubs.”  The watered-down offers kept flowing.  But this Council said no, and it passed a comprehensive Chicago smoke-free ordinance that saves an estimated 2500 lives a year.  Chicago resisted the same argument being advanced here, that a weaker watered-down ordinance would “do some good” and be a stepping stone on the way to solving a public health problem that is addicting and killing our community in record numbers.

The specific problem with the watered-down substitute ordinance here is that it lets people addicted to vaping simply switch back to flavored cigarettes, including menthol cigarettes, and continue their addiction.  You don’t have to take my word for it.  That is what Altria, the parent of Philip Morris, acknowledged in July 2020 in the Wall Street Journal.  Vaping-only restrictions, like the one before you, have caused sales of conventional cigarettes to increase.  It’s like plugging one leak in your pipe and leaving the other leaks un-repaired.

So, who wins and who loses from the passage of this substitute ordinance instead of the alderman’s original ordinance?  It’s easy to see who wins.  Big Tobacco wins.  The tobacco companies get to sell more cigarettes, including flavors and menthol, to Chicagoans. The ordinance gives young people who vape a chance to move to conventional cigarettes.  That is what Altria reported.  So we know who wins.

And who loses?  Who typically loses these things?  How about the vulnerable populations with high smoking rates, especially for menthol cigarettes, including young African American Chicagoans, who have already increased smoking regular cigarettes by 30% in the past two years?  They need a comprehensive solution to the problem, but instead they will continue to live with increased heart disease, lung disease, and cancer.  All because the substitute ordinance doesn’t solve the real problem.   Aren’t they the ones who always lose?

That is why this substitute ordinance is opposed by all of the local service organizations.  We pick up the pieces from what the tobacco industry lobbyists and some selfish retailers leave behind.  We see the patients who are sick.  We help people addicted to tobacco break their addiction. And we are trying to end the racial disparities in so many diseases tied to tobacco use.  It would be better to pass no ordinance at all, and let the political pressure build for true tobacco control in the City of Chicago.

We ask you to reject the substitute ordinance.”

Teen Vaping Rates Soar as Researchers Find COVID-19 Link

Teen Vaping Rates Soar as Researchers Find Link to COVID-19 Infection

CDC Study Shows Urgent Need for Federal, State, and Local Action to Reduce Youth E-Cigarette Use

Contact: Erica Krutsch, Director, Marketing & Communications
734-262-4527 | [email protected]

Chicago, IL – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released new findings on youth tobacco use, including e-cigarettes and vaping products, as part of the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

The survey found that nationally 32.7% of high school students used e-cigarettes in 2019. That number represents a 148% increase since 2017. In Illinois, the survey found nearly 20% of high school students used vaping products, a 51% increase, and in Chicago, 12.4% of high schoolers vaped, which is an 88% increase.32.7% of high school students used e-cigarettes in 2019

“The data show that Illinois and Chicago have made more progress in addressing the teen vaping crisis than some areas of the country, but there is still work to be done,” says Joel Africk, President and Chief Executive Officer at Respiratory Health Association, a Chicago-based lung health organization. “We know e-cigarettes are dangerous, and we need to do everything in our power to prevent a generation of kids from starting.”

The CDC findings come less than two weeks after a Stanford University study found that young people who smoke or use e-cigarettes are five times more likely to contract coronavirus than nonsmokers. Preliminary research also suggests that smokers infected with COVID-19 are nearly 1.5 times more likely to have severe symptoms and 2.5 times more likely to be admitted to the ICU, need mechanical ventilation, or die compared to non-smokers.

“Emerging research has already shown that e-cigarette use may increase coronavirus infection and cause more severe cases of lung disease – and we are only beginning to understand the lasting health impacts of this virus,” commented Ravi Kalhan, MD, Director, Asthma and COPD Program at Northwestern University and RHA board member. “Just a year after we first saw unprecedented cases of lung illness related to vaping, and now facing the COVID-19 pandemic, it is especially concerning to see a growing number of teens are putting themselves at risk by using e-cigarettes.”

Respiratory Health Association advocates strengthening state and local indoor clean air laws to include e-cigarette and vaping use and banning flavored tobacco products that entice young people to start smoking as meaningful ways to curb teen vaping.

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Respiratory Health Association has been a local public health leader in Illinois since 1906 focusing on lung health and clean air issues. A policy leader, our organization remains committed to advancing innovative and meaningful tobacco control policies. We have been one of the state’s leading advocates for federal oversight of tobacco and vaping products, smoke-free laws, Tobacco 21, and other tobacco product policies. For more information, visit resphealth.org.

New Report on Air Quality Highlights Urgency for Clean Energy Across Illinois

For Immediate Release:

January 28, 2020

Contact:

Brian Urbaszewski
[email protected]
312-405-1175

Chicago, Springfield, Peoria and Metro East regions Experienced More Than 100 Days of Polluted Air in 2018

CHICAGO – Ahead of Gov. Pritzker’s annual State of the State address to the General Assembly, a new report shows the urgent need to pass clean air legislation in Illinois, with the metropolitan Chicago region and other areas of Illinois continuing to struggle with high levels of air pollution.

The report, Trouble in the Air from Environment Illinois Research & Policy Center, Frontier Group and Illinois PIRG Education Fund, details continuing national challenges with air pollution that will only be made worse with increasing global warming. Air pollution increases the risk of premature death, asthma attacks and other adverse health impacts. The report shows that nearly 9.5 million people in the Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI Metro region lived through more than 100 days of moderate air pollution or worse. Peoria, Springfield and the Metro East St. Louis region also saw more than 100 days of poor air quality in 2018. The new national statistics from 2018 used in the report represent the most recent data available.

“Instead of undermining clean air protections, our government – at all levels – should be taking every opportunity to clean up the air we breathe,” said Brian Urbaszewski, Director of Environmental Health Programs at Respiratory Health Association. “Since electricity generation and transportation are the most polluting sectors of our economy and that pollution is killing hundreds of people a year in Illinois, we need to transition to clean renewable power sources like wind and solar, while accelerating the use of electric cars, buses and transit that eliminate tailpipe pollution in Illinois communities.” He noted that the Clean Energy Jobs Act being considered in Springfield is the only legislation that addresses both clean energy transitions and the need to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles.

For the report, Trouble in the Air: Millions of Americans Breathed Polluted Air in 2018, researchers reviewed Environmental Protection Agency air pollution records from across the country. The report focuses on ground-level ozone and fine particulate pollution, which are harmful pollutants that come from burning fossil fuels such as coal, diesel, gasoline, natural gas, and from other sources.

From “Trouble in the Air: Millions of Americans Breathed Polluted Air in 2018.” Table ES-1. Ten most populated metropolitan areas with more than 100 days of elevated air pollution in 2018.

“Clean air is not a prescription any physician can write, yet it is a much needed treatment,” said Dr. Neelima Tummala, clinical assistant professor of surgery at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. “While the profound consequences on human health are alarming, what gives me hope is that studies show that improved air quality can mitigate these health effects.” Dr. Tummala noted, for example, that studies show that a long-term improvement in air quality can lead to improved lung function in children and decreased incidence of asthma.

The report’s troubling findings come at a time when the federal government is further endangering air quality by dismantling protections under the Clean Air Act.

“The data show that America’s existing air quality standards aren’t doing enough to protect our health,” said Elizabeth Ridlington, Policy Analyst with Frontier Group and co-author of the report. “As the climate warms, higher temperatures and more severe wildfires increase air pollution and the threat to human health.”

Recommendations in the report include calling on policymakers at all levels of government to reduce emissions from transportation, support clean renewable energy, and expand climate-friendly transportation options with more transit, bike lanes and walkways. The study also calls on the federal government to strengthen ozone and particulate pollution standards, and support strong clean car standards instead of rolling them back.

“No Illinois resident should have to experience one day of polluted air – let alone over 100 days a year,” said Abe Scarr, Director of Illinois Public Interest Research Group. “Air quality will only get worse as our climate warms, so we have no time to lose. We must make progress toward clean air.”

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Respiratory Health Association (RHA) has been a local public health leader in Chicago since 1906. RHA works to prevent lung disease, promote clean air and help people live better through education, research and policy change. To learn more, visit www.resphealth.org.

Illinois PIRG Education Fund is an independent, non-partisan group that works for consumers and the public interest. Through research, public education and outreach, we serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful interests that threaten our health, safety, and wellbeing.

Let’s Work Together to Stop Youth Vaping

Our progress against tobacco is in peril.

In the last 10 years, we’ve worked to create a smoke-free world. We worked toward the passage of the Smoke-Free Illinois Act in 2007, following our success on the Smoke-Free Chicago law in 2005. We educated our legislators on the importance of point-of-sale policy – limiting the ways tobacco companies can advertise in stores.

This year, we raised the tobacco purchase age to 21 – a strategy proven to get cigarettes out of high school social circles and prevent youth smoking.

Together, we’ve shown our government that we want everyone to have access to clean air and be free from Big Tobacco’s lies and predatory marketing.

Yet, as a nation we sit in the middle of a teen vaping epidemic. Despite the vaping industry’s claims of not targeting youth, new investigations show some of the biggest players knowingly tried to addict teens to nicotine. Research now suggests that 1 out of every 4 teenagers has used vaping products.

Parents are concerned. Friends are concerned. Respiratory Health Association is ready to fight.

young students

We will not let vaping turn back our progress. We will do everything we can to prevent a generation of kids from developing dangerous nicotine addiction. RHA is responding to the need in our community.

We are:

  • Preparing for the upcoming Illinois General Assembly session. We are working with legislators to add e-cigarettes to the Smoke-Free Act of Illinois.
  • Collaborating with other health organizations to bring policy forward on banning flavored e-cigarettes.
  • Providing vaping presentations for teens at school and developing a presentation for school staff to deliver directly to students.
  • Incorporating guidance for quitting vaping into our evidence-based tobacco cessation programs.

Want to help your local lung health organization fight for a generation free from nicotine? Consider donating to support our programs, or sign-up to receive e-advocacy alerts to get up-to-date information on our efforts and how you can help lend your voice to our cause.

To learn more about electronic cigarettes and how to talk to teens about the risks of vaping, explore our resources.

RHA to Study Impact of Air Pollution on Public Health in Chicago

All but two of the Chicago Transit Authority’s (CTA) 1,800 buses run on diesel fuel. Respiratory Health Association knows the health and environmental effects of vehicle pollution in the air and is focused on finding healthier transportation options for Chicago.

This summer, the Joyce Foundation awarded a one-year grant to help RHA explore the impacts of air pollution in communities throughout the city of Chicago. Funds will support a study of how diesel buses affect the lung health of residents and help increase efforts to educate leaders and the public on the potential benefits of electric vehicles.

Traffic at nighit in city

RHA’s study will explore the potential health benefits of using electric buses in place of diesel-powered vehicles.

“We see electric buses as a great opportunity, if not a necessity, for a healthier Chicago,” commented Erica Salem, RHA Senior Director, Strategy, Programs & Policy. “The Joyce Foundation’s generous grant allows us to examine how our city can move toward transportation options that provide cleaner air and healthy lungs for all Chicagoans.”

RHA will work closely with the University of Chicago’s Spatial Data Science and the Chicago Department of Public Health to study the health effect diesel buses have across different Chicago neighborhoods. Teams will compare data of those living with lung diseases who also live near busy bus routes, bus garages or maintenance shops to residents living in lower bus traffic communities.

This work builds on RHA’s efforts to secure Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s pledge for cleaner bus options. Chicago lags behind other major US cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, which have announced plans to move to all electric buses sometime in the next 20 years.

RHA will release a final report in the spring of 2020.