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.

Lauren’s Helping Kids Breathe Easier

In April 2018, 9–year-old Lauren Wilson shook hands with Senator Daniel Biss and sat down to educate him about a new law being considered in the Illinois legislature – Stock Emergency Asthma Rescue Medication in Schools. The legislation allows schools across the state to keep a supply of albuterol on hand to deal with asthma episodes and other respiratory emergencies, similar to how they keep an EpiPen on hand for allergy emergencies. Advocates like Lauren helped get the law passed in May 2018– now, they’re trying to make sure that it gets implemented. For her first persuasive writing assignment in 3rd grade, she wrote a 3-page paper on why they need to use the new law to stock albuterol in her school.

Father, daughter and senator pose during lung health advocacy meeting.

Lauren and father Jeremy meet with Senator Biss

“Why does it take so long?” That’s Lauren’s newest question for Illinois State legislators. For kids living with asthma who rely on medications like albuterol, waiting for the law to take effect impacts their ability to live well. Lauren carries her inhaler in her backpack and keeps a backup with the school nurse, but those medications are specific to Lauren. The new law lets schools keep ‘undesignated’ medication – meaning it is not prescribed to a specific person – that can be administered to anyone in respiratory distress. This is an important fail-safe in case someone runs out of medication, forgets or loses an inhaler or, as often happens, experiences breathing difficulty for the first time and hasn’t been diagnosed yet. Lauren wants her school to be as prepared for an asthma episode as she is. Lauren has been an advocate for those living with asthma for most of her life, which stems from her own experience with respiratory issues. Lauren was in and out of the hospital and emergency care as an infant. “It was the scariest experience of my life,” her father, Jeremy remembers. “When they tell you that you should say goodbye to your child after hearing she has gone into respiratory failure.”

After her respiratory failure at six months old, doctors diagnosed Lauren with reactive airway because she was too young at the time for a full asthma diagnosis. She began treatment at that time. At four years old, her pulmonologist made the expected diagnosis of asthma. Throughout this journey, Lauren’s mom, Stephanie, began researching ways the entire family could be proactive in Lauren’s care. They worked closely with a pediatrician to develop an asthma action plan and watched Lauren’s symptoms to identify her triggers. Stephanie’s research also led her to Respiratory Health Association, and the entire family got involved. Lauren’s last hospitalization came last fall. Her asthma has been mostly under control since, but it always requires careful monitoring. In the meantime, Lauren continues to participate in sports and spend time with her friends. “I feel pretty fine doing sports,” Lauren says. “I usually don’t have triggers with sports, mostly just allergies and colds.”

Stephanie reminds her, “If you really pushed, we’d give you 2 pumps of albuterol for stair climbs.” Lauren is very proud of the collection of medals she has from sports and charity events. “I keep them all around the house,” she says mischievously. “We’ll find them everywhere,” Stephanie confirms. In October 2018 RHA presented her an award for her asthma advocacy efforts. The Next Generation Advocate awards are given to young people who stand up for a future free of lung disease and to protect our clean air. Lauren keeps that award in the front of the house, where everyone can see it.

Youth advocate and policy director pose with award for efforts to support lung health

Lauren and Matt Maloney, RHA Directory, Health Policy during the 2018 awards ceremony

She also has medals for Hustle Chicago, RHA’s stair climb, and the CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour, which she participated in as an 18-mile rider the first weekend in August. But there are challenges that come with asthma, summer heat, and physical activity. “We didn’t go out and ride today,” Jeremy mentions. “But she did 9 miles a few days ago.” Before July’s heat wave hit the Midwest, Lauren rode a couple times a week. But as the weather got hotter, the air quality worsened and became unhealthy for people with lung disease. Now that it’s cooled down and air quality has improved, she’s back to good riding conditions. It’s just another thing her parents monitor to help keep her asthma under control.

Jeremy and Stephanie joined Lauren for their 5th year of riding CowaLUNGa. She rode 18 miles on the back of Jeremy’s bike and plans to ride the 18 miles on her own bike next year. With plenty of time to train, she’s ready for the challenge. Lauren proudly describes her bike as blue and silver. “I just learned how to shift gears on it. I went on my first hill recently, and down. That’ll make the hill on the first day not as bad,” she says.

Another milestone she’s ready for?

“She wants that big 20 year trophy,” Jeremy says of the celebratory trophies RHA gives five, 10, 15 and 20 year riders. “And I believe she’ll get it.”

Besides asking her fellow riders to join her in supporting RHA’s advocacy efforts, she offers this advice: “Get out and ride. Wear comfy clothes: bike shorts, gloves and a helmet.” To join The Wilsons in their efforts to fund asthma research, advocacy and education, support their fundraising here.

New Rule Decreases Coal Pollution

For nearly two years we’ve been fighting an effort to allow coal power plants to nearly double the amount of lung and climate-damaging pollution they pump into the air we breathe. The proposed changes to the state’s air pollution control rules were negotiated behind closed doors by the company that owns eight polluting power plants and then-Governor Bruce Rauner’s administration.

Respiratory Health Association sent advocates and policy experts to testify against this attempted rollback at hearings, working with a coalition of environmental and health organizations across the state and the Illinois Attorney General. We also worked with local media to shed light on the situation and inform the public.

In a victory last month, the matter was settled and vast pollution increases were avoided. RHA testimony about coal power plant pollution at a hearing in 2018

The new rules require Vistra, the company that owns half of Illinois’ remaining coal-burning power plants, to close 2,000 megawatts of dirty electricity production by the end of this year. That’s roughly the equivalent of three coal plants.

In addition, the rule caps the emissions across the entire fleet at a level roughly equivalent to the pollution produced each year over the last two years – down considerably from the original request to double emissions.

Coal power has long been in decline because it is more expensive than other methods of producing electricity. Renewable, non-polluting wind and solar energy are becoming less expensive and more reliable as primary power sources every day and continue to grow dramatically in Illinois.

Legislation known as the Clean Energy Jobs Act is also gathering momentum in the Illinois General Assembly. It creates a path to eliminate burning fossil fuels to produce electricity while dramatically increasing investment in wind and solar energy while also accelerating electrification of transportation.

The Clean Energy Jobs Act didn’t get a vote in the last legislative session, but with nearly 80 legislators sponsoring it, we plan to continue building support for the legislation during the veto session this fall.

If you’d like to be stay up to date about clean air and lung-friendly policy efforts like these, sign up for RHA’s advocacy action alerts. You’ll be alerted to changes in policy and given the option to easily contact your elected officials via email.

Statement Applauding Signing of Statewide Tobacco 21 Law

April 7, 2019 – Chicago, IL – Today Governor J.B. Pritzker made an important stride toward a healthier future for Illinois as he signed a bill into law that raises the age to purchase tobacco products in the state from 18 to 21 years old. Special thanks to Rep. Camille Lilly who sponsored the bill and Senator Julie Morrison who championed the statewide “Tobacco 21” legislation.

A cornerstone of RHA’s work is to reduce the toll of tobacco on our communities, particularly among our youth. Tobacco 21 laws are important because 95 percent of adult smokers take up the habit before they turn 21. By raising the purchase age from 18 to 21, the law will help keep tobacco out of schools and away from teens.

“Tobacco 21 laws, like other laws inspired by public health, save thousands of lives a year.  Tobacco 21 in Illinois will reduce youth smoking and, as a result, mean fewer adult smokers, too,” said Joel Africk, president and chief executive officer of Respiratory Health Association. “Ultimately the new law will save more lives than Alcohol 21 and most other public health measures like it.”

Tobacco 21 will yield significant health and economic benefits.  The Institute of Medicine estimates that raising the tobacco purchase age to 21 could result in a 12 percent decrease in smoking rates by the time today’s teenagers become adults.

The new law has been strongly supported by a number youth advocates who joined RHA on advocacy visits and testified at local hearings. “I lost my dad in 2015 when I was 10 to lung disease and lung cancer,” says 14-year-old Ian Piet of Tinley Park. “Because of that, I am supporting tobacco 21 and other measures to help prevent lung disease.”

Respiratory Health Association estimates statewide Tobacco 21 legislation in Illinois will save the lives of more than 24,000 children alive today who otherwise would have died from tobacco-related illness. In addition the policy will save $500 million in future healthcare costs and avoid $500 million more in lost productivity associated with smoking and tobacco related illnesses.

Tobacco 21 previously passed the General Assembly in 2018, but then-Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed the measure. A majority of adults in Illinois support the law. Growing support for Tobacco 21 led to thirty-six communities across the state adopting local laws to raise the tobacco purchase age. These local laws cover approximately 30 percent of the state’s population and paved the way for statewide action.

Prior to working on Tobacco 21, RHA advocated strongly for the Smoke-free Illinois Act, which passed in 2007. That legislation was the strongest statewide smoke-free law in the country.

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Respiratory Health Association has been a local public health leader in Illinois since 1906. 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 Tobacco 21 and Other Tobacco Product policies. For more information, visit www.resphealth.org.

Illinois Becomes 8th State in the U.S. to Raise Tobacco Purchase Age to 21

For Immediate Release:

March 14, 2019

Contact: Erica Krutsch

Desk – 312-628-0225

Legislation Passes General Assembly, Awaits Governor Signature

CHICAGO – On Thursday, March 14, the Illinois General Assembly passed legislation to raise the tobacco purchase age across the state to 21 from 18. The bill passed the House on Tuesday, March 12 before moving on to the Senate Thursday where it passed with bipartisan support. The policy, often referred to as Tobacco 21, aims to reduce youth smoking by removing legal tobacco purchasers from teen social circles.

“We know that 95 percent of smokers start before the age of 21. And we know that the tobacco industry actively targets young people,” said Joel Africk, president and CEO of Respiratory Health Association. “Tobacco 21 will help keep cigarettes and vaping products out of our schools and give our children the chance to live healthier lives.”

Growing support for Tobacco 21 had previously led to thirty-six communities across the state adopting local laws to raise the tobacco purchase age. These local laws covered approximately 30 percent of the state’s population. A recent study, conducted by Fako and Associates, showed that two out of three adults in Illinois support Tobacco 21, a figure that is even higher among current and former smokers.

Each year tobacco use costs Illinois $5.49 billion in health care costs and $5.27 billion in lost productivity, according to research from the Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids. RHA estimates that the law would save Illinois $500 million in future healthcare costs and avoid $500 million more in lost productivity associated with smoking and tobacco related illnesses. Additionally, the Institute of Medicine estimates that raising the tobacco purchase age to 21 could result in a 12 percent decrease in smoking rates by the time today’s teenagers become adults.

RHA would like to thank Senator Julie Morrison for her role as the lead senate sponsor and Representative Camille Lilly for her role as the lead house sponsor.

Tobacco 21 previously passed the General Assembly in 2018, but then-Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed the measure. RHA looks forward to Governor Pritzker’s signing of the legislation.

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 Respiratory Health Association (RHA) works to reduce the toll of tobacco on our communities, particularly among our youth. RHA serves as Healthy Chicago’s community co-leader for tobacco control and offers evidence-based tobacco control strategies and smoking cessation programs throughout Illinois. Respiratory Health Association played a leading role in the passage of Smoke-Free Illinois and has been a strong advocate for statewide adoption of Tobacco 21 in Illinois. To learn more, visit www.resphealth.org.