Protecting Yourself from Wildfire Smoke: Essential Tips

During the summer, wildfire smoke from other states and Canada often impacts air quality across the Midwest and East Coast. As these events become more frequent, it’s important to know how to protect yourself.

Wildfire smoke is a mix of gases and fine particulate matter that can make anyone sick. However, children, older adults, and people with chronic respiratory or cardiovascular disease are at higher risk. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, the pollutant of most concern from wildfire smoke is fine particulate matter (PM 2.5,) a mix of microscopic particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs and affect the heart and circulatory system.

According to Yale Medicine, inhaling wildfire smoke will cause symptoms similar to allergies, such as stinging eyes, scratchy throat, runny nose, coughing, sinus irritation, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Additionally, breathing in smoke can also cause headaches, fatigue, and a fast heartbeat.

By following these steps, you can better protect yourself and your loved ones:

  1. Follow Medical Advice: Ensure you have necessary medications and follow any specific advice from healthcare providers. If you have asthma, make sure to follow your Asthma Action Plan. If you are having trouble breathing, or if your symptoms worsen, call your doctor immediately.
  2. Avoid Activities that Increase Indoor Air Pollution: Avoid smoking, frying, or broiling food, or using a gas stove, as these activities create more pollution. Burning candles or incense also increases indoor air pollution. Even vacuuming can stir up particles already inside your home.
  3. Stay Indoors: Limit outdoor activities when air quality is poor, especially for sensitive groups. If you must go outside, consider wearing an N95 mask.
  4. Keep Windows Closed: Prevent smoke from entering your home and keep yourself cool by using fans and air conditioning to limit stress on your body from hot temperatures.
  5. Use Air Filters: HEPA air filters can significantly reduce indoor pollution. Check out the RHA blog post detailing how to pick out the right air filter for your home.
  6. Monitor Air Quality: Sign up for alerts on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency websites like Enviroflash or AirNow to stay informed about local air quality.

Illinois General Assembly Restricts Sale of Look-Alike Vapes

CHICAGO, May 24, 2024 — RHA commends the Illinois General Assembly for amending the Preventing Youth Vaping Act to restrict the sale of look-alike vaping products.

Senate Bill 2662 provides that “a manufacturer, distributor, or retailer may not advertise, market, or promote an electronic cigarette in a manner that is likely to cause a person to mistake the electronic cigarette for a product that is not a tobacco product.”

As seen in the image provided, e-cigarette companies are creating products that resemble highlighters, pens, water bottles, soda bottles, etc. so that underage consumers can use the product around adults without raising suspicion. E-cigarettes have systemically been marketed toward youth, by using flavors that taste similar to desserts, fruit, candy, and other easy to consume flavors. This masks the harm and extremely addictive quantities of nicotine they contain.

In 2023, a survey found 2.13 million U.S. middle and high school students had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, including 4.6% of middle school students and 10% of high school students.

“The continued high use of e-cigarettes and vaping devices by youth is a nationwide epidemic. 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,” said Joel Africk, President and CEO of Respiratory Health Association. “At RHA, we welcome the efforts by our elected officials to prioritize the importance of protecting youth from these harmful products.”

The tobacco industry is always looking for a way around laws and regulations to attract new, life-long consumers, and this bill is a step in the right direction to keep a new generation of users from the harm of e-cigarettes.

If signed by the Governor, this legislation will take effect immediately.


About 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

Illinois General Assembly Caps the Cost of Prescription Inhalers

CHICAGO, May 23, 2024 — RHA applauds the Illinois General Assembly for passing an amendment that caps the co-pay of an asthma inhaler at $25 per 30-day supply. Coverage for prescription inhalers will also be exempted from insurance plan deductibles. This helps people with lung disease afford the medications they need to stay healthy. Once signed by the Governor, the bill will take effect Jan. 1, 2026.

In Illinois, there are over 1.5 million residents diagnosed with asthma and COPD. Unfortunately, many have limited resources and are among the 25% of people nationwide who are unable to fill their prescribed medications due to costs.  Some patients require two or three inhalers a month. Yet a single inhaler can cost as much as $600 per month. Without affordable prescription inhalers, lung disease patients put their health at risk and face a greater likelihood of exacerbations, emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and death.

“The passage of this amendment reduces a significant barrier for people managing chronic lung health conditions,” said Joel Africk, President and CEO of Respiratory Health Association. “This will increase quality of life for Illinoisans suffering from asthma, COPD, and other lung diseases.”

By making prescribed inhalers more affordable, residents should see a ripple effect across the state by reducing emergency department visits and hospitalizations which will result in significant healthcare savings. And as more children with asthma bring their now affordable inhalers to school this will allow them to remain in class after an asthma episode instead of missing school.


About 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

Biden Administration Delays Menthol Ban

April 29, 2024 – Chicago, IL – Last Friday the Biden administration released a statement delaying issuance of a final rule eliminating menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. This comes despite the rules being widely supported by medical and public health organizations.

“We have a responsibility to protect our citizens, especially our youth, from the effects of tobacco,” said Joel Africk, CEO and President of Respiratory Health Association. “Lung cancer is still the number one cancer killer of men and women in the United States. The Biden Administration is shirking its responsibility and jeopardizing its proposed Cancer Moonshot Initiative’s goals by delaying this implementation.”

Data have shown that flavored tobacco products, including menthol, mask the harsh flavor of tobacco, and for that reason they are widely preferred by first-time smokers.  Eliminating flavored tobacco products is expected to discourage smoking, especially for new smokers.

The tobacco industry has a long history of using flavored tobacco products, including menthol, to target youth and underrepresented communities with their addictive and harmful products. 93% of African American adults who smoke started by using menthol cigarettes compared to 44% of white adults. Eliminating them fully will protect kids and reduce health disparities. The 2022 National Youth Tobacco Survey shows that flavored cigars are the second most popular tobacco product among high school students.

The need is greater than ever to strengthen protections against flavored tobacco and increase programming to protect our youth from the dangers of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. RHA and our partners will continue the fight to remove these harmful products from the market.


Respiratory Health Association has been a local public health leader in Illinois since 1906, focusing on lung health and clean air issues. RHA works to prevent lung disease, promote clean air, and help people live better through education, research, and policy change. As a policy leader, RHA is 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.

Asthma Caregiver’s Handbook Pre-Orders Available

Asthma Caregivers Handbook coverIn the next few months, Respiratory Health Association will be releasing its new Asthma Caregiver’s Handbook. This is a free resource for healthcare providers to support children and families with asthma.

What is the Asthma Caregiver’s Handbook?
The Asthma Caregiver’s Handbook is a compendium of resources for parents, guardians, and other caregivers of children with asthma. The Handbook includes 19 chapters organized into 4 sections, plus appendices:

  • The Introduction presents basic information about asthma and the respiratory system.
  • Managing Your Child’s Asthma addresses how to manage asthma symptoms, asthma action plans, asthma treatment, how to respond to an asthma emergency, asthma triggers and how to manage them, keeping homes asthma-safe, and asthma and food allergies.
  • Supporting Your Child with Asthma provides caregivers with guidance for talking to their child about asthma; empowering their child’s self-care; asthma, smoking and vaping; and preparing their child for day care, school, and college and adulthood.
  • Other Tips for Caregivers shares how caregivers can care for themselves, tips from other caregivers, and a doctor’s answers to common questions.
  • The Appendices are rich with tools and resources ranging from a day care provider checklist and how to clean spacers and inhalers to word searches and other activities for children with asthma.

How can I get a copy of the Asthma Caregiver’s Handbook for my patients?
Respiratory Health Association will be making the Handbooks available at no cost to Illinois nurse practitioners, pediatricians, and asthma specialists. It is our hope they will provide a copy to parents and caregivers of newly diagnosed children with asthma and other families they believe might benefit from the information.

Order your handbook today!

Note for those residing outside Illinois: Currently, the handbook is only available at no cost to caregivers residing in Illinois. In the coming months, it will be made available for a cost (to cover printing and shipping) for caregivers living outside of Illinois. By the end of 2024, we hope to have it available on our website.

RHA Statement on the Passing of Karen Yarbrough

During her tenure representing Maywood in the Illinois General Assembly, Karen Yarbrough was a champion for lung health and a leader in the fight for Smoke Free Illinois. She worked tirelessly, shoulder to shoulder with RHA and other organizations championing the importance of banning smoking in virtually all indoor public places in the state, and protecting the health of Illinoisians. Her twin goals of public health and public safety carried through her tenure in the legislature, and on to her work as Cook County Clerk. Her passion, commitment, and energy will be missed.

Respiratory Health Association expresses its deep condolences to her friends, colleagues and family on the loss of such an incredible person and public servant. May her memory be a blessing.

Respiratory Health Association Endorses HB 4504/SB3203 – Capping the Cost of Co-Pays for Prescription Inhalers

Since 2000, many asthma patients have used Flovent as their go-to inhaler. However, in January 2024, drugmaker GSK announced the discontinuation of Flovent, in favor of producing a generic version. Prescription inhalers contain medications that prevent and treat symptoms – include coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest tightness- for people living with acute respiratory conditions and chronic lung diseases, like asthma and COPD. Poor adherence or not using inhaler as prescribed can exacerbate symptoms, leading to higher risks of breathing difficulties and asthma attacks, a decrease in quality of life and increases in school/work absenteeism emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and even death.

According to GoodRx and NPR, a Flovent inhaler which cost $230 a decade ago, last retailed at $340. The new generic version costs around $310, allowing GSK to sell the drug without a history of price hikes and limiting their risk of price hike penalties. According to a nationwide CDC-funded study, the annual per-person medical cost of asthma is $3,266, of which $1,830 is for prescriptions. HB 4504 and SB 3203 amend the Insurance Code to require health plans to limit co-pays for prescription inhalers for a covered person to $25 per 30-day supply. Additionally, the bill prevents prescription inhalers from being subject to a deductible.

People with chronic lung disease often need two to three inhalers. Financial barriers to inhalers increase the chance a patient will experience exacerbated symptoms and increase the risk of death. These financial barriers also increase the state’s healthcare costs, especially for hospitalizations. A 2022 poll found about 1 in 4 adults who take prescription drugs reported difficulty affording their costs, including about 1 in 3 who take 4 or more prescriptions. For children with asthma specifically, research has found associations between higher cost sharing for asthma medications and higher rates of asthma hospitalizations.

More than 1.4 million people in Illinois have chronic lung disease, including 160,000 children with asthma. Asthma is a leading cause of missed work and school days nationwide. One in three Illinois children with asthma report having symptoms in the last 14 days. In 2017, 1 in 4 Illinois children with asthma reported missing a day of school or day care in the past month due to asthma, costing $53.6 million annually and affecting student learning. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “deaths due to asthma are rare and are thought to be largely preventable.” Yet in 2021, there were 124 asthma-related deaths, the sixth highest rate in the nation. In Illinois, the death rate for Black people with asthma is 5.5 times higher than for White people. Passing bills SB3203 and HB4504, which are supported by nearly 20 public health organizations and hospital systems statewide, would ensure access to life-saving inhalers for all and cap their costs and prioritize the well-being of every individual.

Respiratory Health Association Announces CEO Search

CHICAGO, March 7, 2024 — Respiratory Health Association announced it has retained the executive search firm Growing Your Team® to lead the search for its next Chief Executive Officer. The announcement comes after current President and CEO Joel Africk announced his decision to retire in June 2024 after 34 years of service.

The RHA Board of Directors formed a CEO Search Committee to work with Growing Your Team to conduct a robust search. RHA is seeking a leader with extensive knowledge of nonprofit operations, as well as nonprofit financial, fundraising, and strategic planning skills. The position does not require candidates to be medical professionals. The full job specification can be found online.

“I thank Joel for his long-running commitment to our great organization,” said RHA Board Chair Daniel Lavin. “As we look to the future, we are committed to finding the most qualified candidate to face the ever-evolving lung disease and air quality issues that affect everyone.”

The nonprofit RHA works on a number of fronts to fight lung disease and promote clean air. RHA programs educate students on asthma management, grant funding to lung health researchers, assist patients diagnosed with COPD, and advocate for clean air legislation and policies that curb tobacco use.

If you have any questions, you can reach out to Jamie Van Cuyk of Growing Your Team, who is facilitating our search, at or view the job specification.


About 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



RHA Statement on FDA Inaction on Youth Vaping

In Illinois and across the nation, the surge in youth vaping isn’t just a matter of experimentation; it’s a public health crisis that demands immediate attention. Children are exposing themselves to harmful chemicals like nicotine and formaldehyde, which jeopardizes their developing bodies and increases the likelihood of addiction not just to nicotine, but to other substances as well.

At the heart of this crisis lies disposable, flavored e-cigarettes, the majority of which are manufactured overseas. While the FDA took a commendable step in 2020 by banning pod-based e-cigarettes, they neglected to impose restrictions on their disposable counterparts, creating a dangerous loophole. Consequently, more than 5,800 unique disposable products have flooded the market- a staggering 1,500% increase from early 2020. These products are designed to entice children with sweet, candy-like flavors, flashy packaging, and aggressive marketing on social media. It’s no surprise that 85% of youth e-cigarette users prefer flavored products, with fruit and candy options topping the list.

The harsh reality is that the majority of these products are being sold illegally, blatantly violating FDA regulations. The Food and Drug Administration must move to approve each e-cigarette product before they can be sold. These flashy, kid-friendly flavored products that are helping drive youth vaping rates should not be available for sale. The FDA must do its job, enforce existing regulations, and crackdown on the sale of illegal, flavored vapes that directly endanger American children. Thankfully, we have a U.S. Senator in Dick Durbin who has been pressuring the FDA to stop this illegal market and we commend him for his work. Yet, we still need more members of the community and other elected officials to address this issue before it’s too late.

We will keep you posted on the latest developments and please sign our action alert.

RHA Statement on the Introduction of ZYN to the US Market

This month, Phillip Morris International introduced ZYN, a nicotine pouch produced by Swedish Match, to the US market. This product is a small, occasionally flavored, pouch that is placed behind the lip to release nicotine to the user. Unfortunately, the product is being promoted to young American audiences through targeted social media campaigns, exposing yet another cohort of young people to the addictiveness of nicotine.

Nicotine is an addictive chemical found in e-cigs, cigarettes, and cigars. Research from the National Institutes of Health found that the health risks of using nicotine include everything from increased blood pressure to increased heart attack risk or even acute nicotine toxicity. According to the CDC, nicotine exposure in adolescence can hinder brain development.

ZYNs are “a pouch packed with problems [and] high levels of nicotine, said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in a statement on January 21, 2024. Sen. Schumer delivered “a warning to parents, because these nicotine pouches seem to lock their sights on young kids – teenagers, and even lower – and then use the social media to hook ’em.”

Respiratory Health Association supports tighter regulation by the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration of all nicotine products.

“The best way for a smoker to break their addiction to nicotine is to follow a proven successful quit smoking program,” said RHA President and CEO, Joel Africk. “Unfortunately, switching to other forms of nicotine just continues the addiction and makes it easier for someone to start smoking.”

For help quitting smoking, visit Courage to Quit® is an evidence-based group or individual tobacco treatment program for adults. It is the cessation component of RHA’s integrated tobacco intervention program. Courage to Quits effectiveness has been documented in the American Journal of Public Health and is based on the work of Andrea King, PhD, a faculty member at the University of Chicago and licensed psychologist with a research background in tobacco and other addictions.


About 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