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.

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.

https://ujoin.co/campaigns/2563/actions/public?action_id=2859

Evanston Limits the Sale of E-Cigarettes, Flavored Tobacco, and Synthetic Nicotine

Evanston has once again shown itself to be a leader in the state of Illinois by keeping its residents safe from the health impacts of consuming tobacco products. In a City Council meeting on November 27, the Evanston City Council voted 6-3 to pass an ordinance banning the sale of all flavored e-cigarettes and flavored tobacco products – including menthol cigarettes and synthetic nicotine. Respiratory Health Association applauds the Evanston City Council, as well as the residents, advocates, and organizations that supported the protective measure. The passage of this comprehensive ban and the resulting restriction of the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, will help end the cycle of addiction and protect against the deadly impact of tobacco use.

“Thank you, Evanston City Council, for standing up to the tobacco industry and proposing this bold, lifesaving policy,” said Joel Africk, CEO and President of Respiratory Health Association.

RHA and Partners Awarded Federal Grant to Improve Air Quality by Reducing Transportation Emissions

CHICAGO – Respiratory Health Association (RHA), in partnership with ComEd, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), the Argonne and Oak Ridge national laboratories, announced it has been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to receive one of just seven awards made nationally through the federal Clean Energy to Communities (C2C) initiative.

The $500,000 federal award will support regional efforts to understand and inform strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and boost the adoption of all-electric transportation options. Over the next three years, grant partners will conduct research and modeling to better understand the types and the scale of action needed to lower carbon emissions in the transportation sector.

“Reducing air pollution from motor vehicles will benefit everyone who breathes—not just people living with asthma and other chronic lung diseases,” said Joel Africk, President and CEO of Respiratory Health Association. “The positive impact of this project will be felt throughout the Midwest, and particularly in poorer communities where vehicular traffic is disproportionately heavy.”

Nationwide, transportation is now the largest single source of planet-warming gases, and transportation accounts for 32% of northeastern Illinois’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, further complicated by the Chicago region’s role as a freight and logistics hub. Recent studies reveal that the transition to electric vehicles in Illinois has the potential to provide significant health benefits, with RHA finding as many as 400 premature deaths in Illinois each year due to air pollution from diesel engine emissions alone.

Learn more about the C2C award partnership.

FDA’s Proposed Rules to Prohibit Menthol Cigarettes and Flavored Cigars Will Protect Lung Health

Today the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed product standards that ban menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes and ban all characterizing flavors (including menthol) in cigars. The decision comes as the result of a citizen complaint filed by public health organizations and over a decade of advocacy efforts.

“Respiratory Health Association applauds the FDA’s decision to move forward with greater regulation of these harmful tobacco products,” commented Joel Africk, RHA’s President & Chief Executive Officer. “We continue to fight to reduce the burden of tobacco-related lung illnesses in our communities and believe removing menthol products from store shelves is the right thing to do.”

The less harsh, mint-like flavoring of menthol products makes them easier to smoke and often appeals to younger or new smokers. Additionally, tobacco companies have historically marketed these products to teens and in minority communities. Studies have shown as many as 70% of teen smokers use menthol cigarettes. Of Black smokers, nearly 85% smoke menthol cigarettes compared to 30% of all white smokers – contributing to health disparities including risk for lung disease. In total, an estimated 18.6 million current smokers use menthol cigarettes.

“Big Tobacco – a multi-billion-dollar industry – has long used menthol flavoring to target new smokers and minority communities,” continued Africk. “The FDA’s move will prevent a new generation of smokers, help address significant lung health inequities, and save lives.”

The FDA’s rules also offer protections to consumers, as enforcement will only address manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. RHA looks forward to President Biden’s administration finalizing these new rules – and helping implement a policy that focuses on improving lung health and holding the tobacco industry accountable instead of criminalizing individual use of these products.

For media inquiries, please contact Joe Siebelts at jsiebelts@resphealth.org or (312) 628-0204.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

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.

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.”

A Statement on Racial Justice

To the Respiratory Health Association community,

The killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor have sparked outrage, sadness, and fear across the country. These tragic, preventable deaths and countless others lay bare the persistent racial inequities in our society – inequities that represent a crisis for public health.

Respiratory Health Association supports the protesters and those who are speaking out for racial justice.

To say anything else betrays our guiding principles and vision of healthy lungs and clean air for all. We cannot achieve health equity without addressing the systemic racism that is so deeply rooted in our country. As we watch current events unfold during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are reminded that the pandemic has taken a disproportionate toll on black and brown communities and is simply the latest in a long list of inequities.

As we stand together demanding change, we must not confuse the actions of those seeking justice and systemic reform with the opportunistic actions of others seeking to harm the movement. Confusing those narratives only adds injustice to injustice.

We appreciate the seriousness of the challenges facing our country and support the work of the many organizations working on the front lines for racial equality, including many such organizations here in Chicago.

Sincerely,

Joel Africk
President & CEO
Respiratory Health Association

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.