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.

What You Need to Know About the 2019 Novel Coronavirus

An Update on the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Updated 03/16/20

  • CDC recommends canceling or postponing events with 50+ people for the next 8 weeks
  • Health care providers should prepare for rapid spread and increasing number of cases
  • People with underlying medical conditions including chronic lung diseases (like asthma and COPD) are more likely to suffer severe effects of the illness, and should take additional precautions to avoid getting sick.  
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared COVID-19 a Global Pandemic

A new coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China in December 2019 continues to spread, with a growing number of cases identified in countries worldwide. The virus, known as COVID-19, has a growing number of confirmed cases in the U.S. to date including the Chicago-area.

Most people who get sick with COVID-19 will develop mild to moderate respiratory symptoms. However, people who are more susceptible to infection may develop more severe disease. The most common symptoms include fever, tiredness, dry cough, and difficulty breathing. Some patients may also have aches and pains, runny nose, nasal congestions, sore throat or diarrhea. The symptoms are very similar to the seasonal flu virus. Symptoms have appeared anywhere from two to 14 days after contact with the virus. Unlike the flu, there is no vaccine to protect against COVID-19 and no medications yet approved to treat it. If you experience these symptoms, visit a health care provider to determine the cause of your sickness as soon as possible and try to avoid contact with others.

There are a number of ways to reduce your risk of infection and prevent further spread. It’s recommended you:

  • Get a flu shot if you have not already. While this won’t prevent COVID-19, it can help you avoid the flu so your immune system is better able to cope with other illnesses.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer which kills viruses that may be on your hands.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with others who are sick.
  • Contact a health care provider and stay home if you have symptoms.

If you live with lung diseases like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or pulmonary fibrosis, taking steps to avoid getting sick is especially important as viruses can worsen these conditions or lead to additional lung illnesses. For people at higher risk of serious illness, like those living with chronic lung diseases, the CDC has developed additional recommendations:

1. Maintain at least a 30-day supply of your prescribed medications. Check with your insurance provider for refill terms.

2. Stock up on every day supplies in your home.

4. Establish a COVID-19 hygiene routine for people entering home (i.e using hand sanitizer, handwashing, etc.), but try to avoid contact with others as much as possible especially if a COVID-19 outbreak is identified in your community.

5. If home health nurses or aides assist you with household tasks, ask what steps they are taking to ensure prevention practices are in place.

6. Avoid large crowds, cruise travel and non-essential air travel.

7. When you go out in public, stay away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash your hands often.

In response to continued spread of the virus to new countries, especially those with more vulnerable populations, the World Health Organization (WHO) labeled the outbreak an international public health emergency

For U.S. residents, the CDC says current risk depends on exposure to the virus, which is known to spread person-to person. It is important to know the signs and symptoms and take steps to prevent infection when the outbreak reaches the U.S. Limiting person-to-person spread by following the steps above can lessen its impact while the CDC learns more about about how it affects people.

The CDC continues screening for the virus in travelers who arrive to the U.S. from Wuhan. These screenings are currently taking place at Chicago O’Hare, Atlanta, San Francisco, New York JFK and Los Angeles airports.

Respiratory Health Association (RHA) will continue to monitor and provide updates as made available.

For guidance in Spanish, the Chicago Department of Public Health has additional resources. To sign-up to receive alerts from the Illinois Department of Public Health, click here.

FDA’s New E-Cigarette Policy Isn’t Enough to End Youth Vaping Epidemic

For Immediate Release

Chicago, IL January 02, 2020 – Today the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued new policies regarding enforcement against certain flavored e-cigarette products. These new policies, however, will fall far short of what is needed to keep teens away from these addictive nicotine products.

By only restricting flavors in cartridge-based products and allowing menthol flavorings to remain on the market in all forms, the FDA is leaving too many ways for Big Tobacco to target and addict kids across the country.

“Nicotine is an addictive, dangerous drug that harms brain development and poses other significant health risks,” says Joel Africk, President and CEO, Respiratory Health Association. “No level of chemical aerosol inhalation is good for the lungs, and other long-term health impacts of these products are completely unknown.”

The vaping industry’s illegal marketing to children has been well documented, and one of the industry’s largest players, JUUL, has been sued by the FDA for making illegal claims about the safety of their products.

“We cannot trust companies profiting off addiction with the health and safety of our nation’s children,” continues Africk.

The FDA’s new policy comes in response to skyrocketing rates of youth e-cigarette use. Currently one out of every four high school students reports using e-cigarettes and the majority report using products in candy and fruit flavors.

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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.

Statement Supporting a Flavored Tobacco Ban and Recall of Vaping Products

Media Contact: Erica Krutsch

Office: 312-628-0225

September 23, 2019 – Chicago, IL – Today, Respiratory Health Association’s (RHA) President and CEO Joel Africk called for a flavored tobacco ban and e-cigarette product recall at the Illinois House of Representatives Mental Health Committee hearing on the Vaping Crisis. Africk called for a ban on flavored tobacco products of all types, including e-cigarettes, and the removal of all vaping products from store shelves until it can be determined why eight people have died and hundreds more have been sickened by these products.

At the hearing, Africk gave the following remarks:

This crisis is growing and it’s growing fast. Action is needed now. The federal government is dragging its feet on taking action so we need the State of Illinois to act now to protect against further illness and death.

There is a lack of safety data on either the long-term or short-term health effects of inhaling chemicals previously untested for human consumption. There are known carcinogens contained in the supposedly “harmless” water vapor from e-cigarettes.  There is an epidemic of e-cigarette use among our children, which means we will face yet another generation of nicotine addicts—all at a time that cigarette smoking by children was in sharp decline.

The vaping industry, which is aligned and partly owned by Big Tobacco, has failed to take any decisive and immediate voluntary efforts in the vaping industry to protect the public. Until this crisis, the industry strongly opposed FDA efforts to test the safety of its products pre-market.  And after this crisis arose, at most, there has been a series of measured actions intended to cut off a broader regulatory response. We should not expect anything more from an industry that has deceptively marketed its harmful products.

The only solution given an industry like this is for the government to take decisive action.  First and foremost these products must be pulled from the shelves until we know what’s killing people and making them sick. Then, to prevent further crises, we need a clear set of comprehensive regulations to protect children, adult users of vaping products and the public.  Without such action, this industry will never police itself, and we’ll undoubtedly see the number of deaths and illnesses continue to rise.

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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 federal oversight of tobacco and vaping products, Tobacco 21 and Other Tobacco Product policies. For more information, visit resphealth.org.

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.

RHA Calls for Congress to Maintain Tuberculosis Control Funding

Sunday, March 24 is World Tuberculosis Day

CHICAGO, IL – March 22 – On World Tuberculosis Day 2019 Respiratory Health Association, a community public health leader since 1906, is calling for Congress to maintain federal funding levels for tuberculosis prevention and control.

“We know from past experience that when funding decreases, tuberculosis cases increase and spread,” said Joel Africk, president and chief executive officer of Respiratory Health Association. “World Tuberculosis Day is an excellent reminder that we cannot afford to risk the health of our communities by reducing prevention and control funding.”

In 2018, the Chicago Department of Public Health reported 115 cases of tuberculosis –a contagious, airborne illness that impacts the lungs. This figure represents the lowest case count ever recorded. The 115 cases represent a 10 percent decrease over the 128 cases reported in 2017 and a nearly 31 percent reduction from the 166 cases reported in 2011.

“If not treated properly, tuberculosis can be a severe or deadly disease, highlighting the importance of detection, reporting and treatment efforts,” said CDPH Commissioner, Julie Morita MD.  “Sustained funding is necessary in order to protect all Chicago residents from infectious diseases like tuberculosis.”

The decline in cases is likely attributed to effective treatment and containment of new cases. Tuberculosis is caused by bacteria and often spreads when someone infected with the disease coughs or sneezes. Due to the highly contagious nature of tuberculosis, it is critical that every case is treated, contained and documented efficiently.

Respiratory Health Association applauds Chicago Department of Public Health’s work reducing the number of new tuberculosis cases and urges continued diligence.

In 1906, the year Respiratory Health Association was founded as the Chicago Tuberculosis Institute, tuberculosis was a leading cause of death in Chicago and nationally.

The rate of tuberculosis in the United States began to drop in the 1940s and 1950s, as effective treatments were developed, but the disease has continued to be a world health threat, particularly in less developed parts of the world and in the U.S. at the height of the AIDS epidemic. The World Health Organization reports that each year, nearly 4500 people lose their lives to tuberculosis and close to 30,000 people fall ill with this preventable and curable disease.

Contact:

Erica Krutsch, Director of Marketing & Communications

Desk – 312-628-0225

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.

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.

Statement Applauding Illinois House’s Passage of Tobacco 21

March 12, 2019

Respiratory Health Association (RHA) congratulates the Illinois House on the passage of HB345, a statewide “Tobacco 21” bill that raises the age to purchase tobacco products in the state from 18 to 21. The House passed the legislation today 82-31. Special thanks to Rep. Camille Lilly who sponsored the bill.

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.

“Too many kids are exposed to tobacco products in their teenage years,” said Joel Africk, President and CEO, Respiratory Health Association. “If we can keep kids away from tobacco until they’re 21, they’re far less likely to become addicted and can live healthier lives.”

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.

“We estimate statewide Tobacco 21 legislation in Illinois will save $500 million in future healthcare costs and avoid $500 million more in lost productivity associated with smoking and tobacco related illnesses,” continued Africk.

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 measure. 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.

RHA Statement on E-Cigarettes & Vaping Products

Respiratory Health Association Statement on Electronic Cigarettes & Vaping Products

As conventional cigarette use in the United States has declined, electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) use rates have continued to climb, particularly among youth. Vaping devices, such as the widely popularized Juul, have become a mainstay in places of education, with 42.2 percent of U.S. high school students having used an e-cigarette. Recent data show that U.S. youth e-cigarette use increased by 78 percent in 2018, prompting U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Gottlieb to declare youth use of e-cigarettes an “epidemic”.

The increased use of e-cigarettes and vaping devices by youth poses a grave public health concern. These products are unregulated and contain at least 60 different chemical compounds, some of which are known to be toxic, carcinogenic and linked to cardiac disease. E-cigarette vapor is not just water vapor. E-cigarettes have not been proven safe—especially for young people. Exposure to nicotine during adolescence can negatively impact brain development and cognition and can serve as a gateway to conventional tobacco use. E-cigarette use is also associated with an increased risk of heart attack, heart disease and stroke.

Studies show that flavored tobacco products serve as starter products for many smokers, which lead to nicotine addiction and can serve as a gateway to traditional tobacco use. According to data from 2013-2014, 4 out of 5 youth who are current tobacco users started by using a flavored product. Flavors can also alter youth perception of the dangers of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes (which come in over 15,000 flavors), which results in increased use of these products.

E-cigarettes are not an FDA-approved tobacco cessation product. Although a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that e-cigarettes are more effective in smoking cessation than nicotine-replacement therapy, the results are not generalizable. The study was conducted in the United Kingdom with different e-cigarette products than those offered in the U.S., and the treatment included intensive behavioral support. In addition, it is difficult to assign a standard risk-reduction label to all e-cigarette products because they are not currently regulated, and the array of available e-cigarette products and technologies can vary so much. The long-term health effects of e-cigarette use are still not known, and the study did not address the dangers of nicotine addiction. At the conclusion of the study, 80 percent of those in the e-cigarette treatment group were still using e-cigarettes, compared with 9 percent of those in the nicotine-replacement group still using nicotine replacement. In the U.S., more than half of all e-cigarette users aged 25 and older are also current cigarette smokers.

Respiratory Health Association is committed to taking action to reduce the toll of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, on our communities, including:

  • Raising the minimum legal sales age of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and vaping products, from 18 to 21
  • Adding e-cigarettes to existing smoke-free laws
  • Clarifying definitions of tobacco to include e-cigarette and vaping products
  • Licensing tobacco and e-cigarette retailers
  • Restricting the sales of flavored tobacco and vape products
  • Raising the tax on e-cigarettes and vaping products

Statement Supporting Wider Restrictions on Vaping Products and E-Cigarettes

Respiratory Health Association (RHA) applauds the expected FDA action to ban sales of most flavored e-cigarettes in convenience stores and gas stations across the country.

Vaping devices, such as the widely popularized Juul, have become a mainstay in places of education, with 42.2 percent of U.S. high school students having used an e-cigarette. Recent data show e-cigarette use skyrocketed among youth, prompting Commissioner Gottlieb to declare youth use of e-cigarettes an “epidemic”.

The increased use of e-cigarettes and vaping devices by youth poses a grave public health concern. These products are unregulated and contain nicotine, heavy metals, ultrafine particles, and other carcinogens. They have not been proven safe – especially for young people. They are not an FDA-approved tobacco cessation product, and e-cigarette vapor is not just water vapor, despite what some may claim.

Flavored tobacco products appeal to youth. According to data from 2013-2014, 4 out of 5 youth who tried tobacco started by using a flavored product. Flavors can also alter youth perception of the dangers of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, which results in increased use of these products. Studies show that flavored tobacco products serve as starter products for many smokers, which lead to nicotine addiction and can serve as a gateway to traditional tobacco use.

Restricted access is a proven strategy and logical step for discouraging youth from using these products.  These actions will saves lives and bring us one step closer to a tobacco-free generation.

Respiratory Health Association has submitted public comments and testimony to the federal government regarding the impact of flavored tobacco and vaping products. We remain committed to taking action to reduce youth use of all tobacco products including e-cigarettes.