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 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

Respiratory Health Association Statement on Final U.S. EPA PM2.5 National Ambient Air Quality Standard Announcement

February 7, 2024 – Chicago, IL – Respiratory Health Association (RHA) applauds the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to significantly tighten the national ambient air quality standard for fine particulate matter (commonly called “soot”). As a respiratory irritant, fine particle pollution increases the number of asthma attacks, emergency room visits, respiratory hospitalizations, and premature deaths. The health standard finalized by the Agency recognizes what scientists have been saying for years– particle pollution is harmful to human health even at low concentrations.

The EPA’s action is also important for health equity. Fine particle pollution disproportionately impacts minority communities.  Research has shown that U.S. racial and ethnic minorities, as well as lower-income groups, are at a higher risk of premature death from exposure to PM2.5 air pollution. The Agency’s decision will result in fewer people from underserved communities dying from breathing air pollution, in a portion of the country where the pollution levels are consistently among the highest.

“It has been an 11-year struggle to set soot pollution standards that adequately protect human health based on science,” said Brian Urbaszewski, RHA Director of Environmental Health Programs. “The decision finalized today will save over 4,000 lives a year and begin to reduce the disproportionate air pollution burden borne by communities of color.”

However, the standard chosen still falls short of the levels supported by health and medical groups, including RHA. The EPA’s own Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) shows that lowering the annual standard further would prevent 9,200 premature deaths, compared to 4,500 premature deaths with the standard announced today.


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

State of Illinois First to Fund School Asthma Program – RESCUE Program Aims to Keep Kids with Asthma in School

September 5, 2023 – Chicago, IL – Respiratory Health Association (RHA) and Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) have launched the RESCUE Illinois Schools program. RESCUE, which stands for Resources for Every School Confronting Unexpected Emergencies, will serve over 3,000 schools in Illinois in its first year.

The purpose of the program is to provide asthma medication and training for schools to respond to asthma emergencies. Training will be provided to all Illinois school nurses and other school staff on how to respond to a student having an asthma episode during school hours. The goal is to keep students healthy, in class, and out of the emergency room.  While 17 states have laws allowing schools to provide ‘undesignated’ asthma medications during emergencies, Illinois is the first state to fund such an effort.

“We applaud the State of Illinois for prioritizing the health of school children and not allowing asthma to interrupt a child’s education,” said Joel Africk, RHA President & CEO. “This funding will help the thousands of Illinois students with asthma stay in school and take some of the burden off parents.”

“This is the very type of system change that positions Illinois to not only improve and save lives but also to be a clear leader in innovative student health solutions. We are grateful and honored to be a part of this work,” said Chris Martinez, Executive Director of Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America – MidStates Chapter.

A 2018 Illinois state law allows schools to keep their own supply of asthma rescue medications on hand for emergencies.  Previously, only individuals with an asthma diagnosis and prescriptions in their own name were permitted to obtain asthma rescue medications.

Asthma episodes are the number one reason for U.S. school absences because of a chronic disease. The CDC estimates that more than 4 million school-aged U.S. children have asthma. And yet, only 17 states allow schools (not just the students with asthma) to carry a supply of emergency asthma medicine at school.



About Respiratory Health Association

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, 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. RHA is dedicated to improving asthma management among children and their adult caregivers. Our school-based asthma management education programs are well-established and supported by research. To date, RHA has educated more than 14,000 students with asthma through Fight Asthma Now© and 30,000 adult caregivers through Asthma Management. For more information, visit


About Asthma and Allergy Foundation

Founded in 1953, AAFA is the oldest and largest non-profit patient organization dedicated to saving lives and reducing the burden of disease for people with asthma, allergies and related conditions through research, education, advocacy, and support. AAFA offers extensive support for individuals and families affected by asthma and allergic diseases, such as food allergies and atopic dermatitis (eczema). Through its online patient support communities, network of local chapters and affiliated support groups, AAFA empowers patients and their families by providing practical, evidence-based information and community programs and services. AAFA is the only asthma and allergy patient advocacy group that is certified to meet the standards of excellence set by the National Health Council. For more information, visit:

Meenal B. Patwardhan, MD, MHSA, Joins RHA Board of Directors

August 30, 2023 – Chicago, IL – Respiratory Health Association is proud to announce the election of Dr. Meenal B. Patwardhan, MD, MHSA, to its Board of Directors. Dr. Patwardhan’s extensive experience in academia, evidence-based practice, healthcare policy, as well as her leadership in the pharmaceutical industry and expertise in clinical research make her a valuable addition to the Board. Dr. Patwardhan’s appointment reinforces RHA’s commitment to excellence, innovation, and collaboration. Her leadership and strategic insights will play a crucial role in shaping the organization’s future initiatives and driving positive change in the field of lung health.

“As a member of the RHA Board of Directors, I look forward to enabling rigorous research and policy-making that will positively impact the lives of so many patients, like myself, who deal with lung conditions.”

“Dr. Patwardhan’s clinical expertise and leadership is a welcome addition to RHA’s Board of Directors,” said Joel Africk, RHA President and CEO. “We are excited to work with her in our ongoing fight against lung disease to support families, patients, and caregivers.”

Dr. Patwardhan brings a wealth of knowledge and a proven track record of success in various leadership roles. With over 15 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry, including positions at Abbott/AbbVie, she has demonstrated her ability to lead and motivate large national and international teams. Her expertise in evidence-based medicine, outcomes research, and healthcare decision-making will be instrumental in shaping the strategic direction of RHA.

Additionally, Dr. Patwardhan’s tenure as Adjunct Associate Professor of Medicine at Duke University Medical Center highlights her dedication to education and research. She has contributed significantly to the field of medicine through her research endeavors, clinical trial design, and implementation of evidence-based practices.

Constellation Executive Dwayne Pickett Joins RHA Board of Directors

August 28, 2023 – Chicago, IL – Respiratory Health Association is pleased to announce the appointment of Dwayne Pickett to the board of directors. As a member of the Board of Directors, Dwayne will help guide the strategic direction of RHA and promote corporate engagement. His commitment to excellence, innovation, and community engagement makes him a valuable addition to the board.

“Seeing the devastating effects of lung disease on my own family has driven my passion for clean air and respiratory health in my personal life and in my work,” Pickett said. “I’m honored to join RHA’s board and continue the Association’s long history of successful advocacy and programming to make sure that all of our communities breathe easier.”

“Dwayne’s impressive background and extensive experience in energy policy and regulatory solutions bring a unique perspective on strategy development, team leadership, and stakeholder engagement to the RHA Board,” said RHA President and CEO Joel Africk.

Dwayne currently serves as Vice President of Clean Hydrogen Market Development at Constellation, the nation’s largest producer of carbon-free energy. He previously served in various roles at the Exelon Corporation. In addition, he has been an active health advocate, previously serving as an RHA Associate Board Member and other local nonprofits.

Respiratory Health Association Statement on EPA Decision to Delay Changes to Ozone Health Standard

August 21, 2023 – Chicago, IL – Under the guise of ‘needs more study’ the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today made a decision that ensures Americans will continue to breathe more dangerous ozone smog for many years to come. Rather than proposing a tighter ozone health standard early next year as expected, it has now halted any improvement and deferred further action until 2025 or later.

Scientists officially advising EPA on its air standards made it abundantly clear, based on scientific information that was available years ago, that the current health standard is too weak, does not protect vulnerable groups, and should be strengthened to 55-60 parts per billion (ppb) from the current 70 ppb.

“EPA’s decision will hurt the millions of people who disproportionately suffer the health impacts of poor air quality,” said Joel Africk, RHA President and CEO. “Respiratory Health Association will continue to fight for healthy lungs and clean air for all, especially for the young, seniors, and people living with lung and heart disease and other chronic medical conditions.”

Illinois records ozone smog levels at 33 locations around the state. Even using the inadequate existing ozone health standard set back in 2015, all of those air quality monitoring stations have seen multiple days this year where caustic ozone gas levels exceeded national health standards. Some monitoring stations in the Chicago region saw 20 such days so far this summer.

EPA is also reviewing the adequacy of the fine particle “soot” health standard and, barring any reversal there, is still expected to announce a final decision by the end of this year on the need to reduce deadly fine particles in the air from fossil fuel power plants and motor vehicles.

Lockton Executive Joshua Luther Joins RHA Board of Directors

August 18, 2023 – Chicago, IL – Respiratory Health Association is proud to announce the election of Joshua Luther to the board of directors. Throughout his career at Lockton Companies, Joshua has held various client account team roles, providing him with a deep understanding of client service and the execution of strategic goals. As a member of the Board of Directors, Joshua will play a crucial role in guiding the strategic direction of RHA and championing initiatives that drive increased collaboration with the corporate community.

“As a member of the RHA Board of Directors, I am looking forward to creating and enhancing strong collaborations between RHA and the corporate community. Additionally, this important role allows me to honor my father, who lost his battle with lung cancer in 2009.”

“We are excited for Joshua to bring his energy and insights from leading corporate teams to RHA’s board,” said Joel Africk, RHA President and CEO. “His enthusiasm brings renewed vigor to our efforts to fight for healthy lungs and clean air for all.”

With over 20 years of experience in property and casualty insurance and risk management consulting, Joshua brings a wealth of expertise and leadership to the board. As the Growth & Operations Director and a member of the Executive Committee for the Lockton Midwest Series, he has demonstrated his strategic vision and exceptional ability to drive growth and implement effective people initiatives.

Dr. M. Bradley Drummond Receives 2023 Solovy Award for COPD Research

July 18, 2023 – Chicago, IL – Respiratory Health Association (RHA) is pleased to name M. Bradley Drummond, MD, MHS, the recipient of the 2023 Solovy Award for Advancement in COPD. Dr. Drummond is a distinguished, board-certified pulmonary and critical care physician at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

The Solovy Award was established in memory of Mr. Jerold Solovy by his wife, Kathleen Hart Solovy, and funded by the Kathleen Hart Solovy and Jerold S. Solovy Endowment for COPD. This award aims to reduce the burden of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and inspire innovation among lung health researchers.

Upon receiving the Solovy Award, Dr. Drummond will be granted $20,000 to further his COPD research endeavors. This funding will allow him to pursue innovative approaches and breakthroughs that will positively impact the lives of those affected by COPD.

“I have dedicated my career to COPD research as a direct result of my personal experiences caring for patients with COPD. I know what this disease does to people, and these experiences keep me motivated to make discoveries to help those impacted by COPD.” Drummond stated. “This perspective makes the Solovy award, coming from a patient and family impacted by COPD, truly special to me.”

Dr. Drummond is renowned for his expertise in COPD, alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, and smoking cessation. He has dedicated his career to unraveling the mechanisms underlying chronic lung disease development and finding innovative solutions for at-risk individuals and those already diagnosed with COPD. As a clinical and translational researcher, Dr. Drummond has focused on characterizing the intricate processes involved in the development of chronic lung disease in high-risk populations. With expertise in epidemiology and clinical trials design, he has shed light on patterns and risk factors for lung function progression in smokers and individuals living with HIV. He also characterizes the longitudinal impact of smoking, HIV infection and tobacco dependence on long-term outcomes related to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“Millions of individuals and their families around the world battle COPD every day,” Drummond stated. “It is their courage and resilience in the face of this insidious disease that fuels my determination to find better treatments, improve patient care, and ultimately discover a cure.”

Dr. Drummond’s projects include a groundbreaking study supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), investigating the role of nasal mucosal immunity and microbiome in controlling COPD progression. He is also actively involved in the Subpopulations and intermediate outcome measures in COPD study (SPIROMICS). In his role as the director of the UNC Obstructive Lung Diseases Clinical and Translational Research Center, Dr. Drummond oversees several clinical research studies, collaborating with NIH and industry sponsors. His leadership and expertise have propelled advancements in COPD research, paving the way for improved treatments and patient care.

“We are excited to recognize Dr. Drummond for his work on behalf of COPD patients and look forward to following his research efforts,” said Joel Africk, RHA’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “COPD has claimed too many of our family members, friends, and colleagues. We are reminded that funding for COPD research is much less than other common chronic diseases.”

Each year Respiratory Health Association awards early-stage research grants to promising projects covering lung diseases such as lung cancer, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Learn more about RHA’s research program and funding opportunities at


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

About the University of North Carolina Department of Medicine

The UNC Department of Medicine represents 12 medicine subspecialties. We train physicians for meaningful and impactful careers, pursue discoveries that advance science, and aim to provide expert, compassionate care to everyone we serve. Our innovative training curriculum prepares physicians to thrive in the ever-changing health care environment. Our research helps shape how we understand and treat disease. And our clinicians collaborate across specialties to provide truly outstanding clinical care.

RHA Hosts 27th Annual CowaLUNGa™ Charity Bike Tour to Fight Lung Disease

July 14, 2023 – Chicago, IL – Hundreds of riders will participate in the 27th annual CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour taking place July 29-31, 2023, while raising funds for Respiratory Health Association.

CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour starts at Gurnee Mills Mall in Gurnee, IL and offers a one-day ride (18 or 65 miles), a two-day ride (130 miles) or a three-day ride (190 miles) pedaling over rolling hills through northern Illinois into southern Wisconsin. Riders who can’t start on Saturday, July 29, can join the ride on Sunday, July 30 in William’s Bay, WI for a one-day Century Ride. Other stops include Whitewater, WI, before ending on Day Three at Hubertus, WI.

“So many of us have loved ones living with lung disease,” said Joel Africk, President and CEO of Respiratory Health Association. “This event is a great way to make a difference in fighting one of the leading causes of death in the U.S.”

Many riders this year indicated they have been affected by lung disease or lung health concerns such as asthma, lung cancer, pulmonary fibrosis, smoking, COPD, or cystic fibrosis.

Along the way, riders experience an unparalleled level of camaraderie and support from other cyclists and Respiratory Health Association, while helping RHA achieve its vision of healthy lungs and clean air for all.

To sign up, please visit


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.