23rd Annual CowaLUNGa Takes Place August 3-5, 2019

Registration for CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour 2019 is now open! Escape the noise of the city for a weekend and explore the scenic Midwest as you bike through northern Illinois into southern Wisconsin.

About CowaLUNGa 2019 Charity Bike Tour

Along the way, you’ll 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.

This is RHA’s 23rd year hosting the CowaLUNGa bike ride, so you can rely on our expertise from years of experience to give you a world-class event.

Choose to ride 18 or 65 miles in one day, 130 miles in two days or 190 miles over three days.

What’s Included When you Register?

All routes are one-way with free return transportation back to the start line and include full SAG and medical support; two daily rest stops; breakfast and dinner. Free overnight parking is available onsite at Gurnee Mills for the event’s duration.

Two and three-day riders (130 & 190 mile routes) also receive comfortable, indoor housing accommodations.

Saturday night is spent at the newly-remodeled Conference Point Center (CPC) on the beautiful shores of Lake Geneva. CPC has 5 stars on Facebook and 4.5 stars on Google reviews!

Sunset over Lake Geneva from Conference Point Center in William's Bay Wisconsin A bedroom at Conference Point Center - Night one of Cowalunga 2019 Living area of a cabin at Conference Point Center Conference Point Center grounds during CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour

Sunday night is CowaLUNGa’s college throw back night at University of Wisconsin Whitewater. Prop those dorm doors open and relive those carefree campus days, complete with games and entertainment in the UWW Student Center.

Dorms at University of Wisconsin WhitewaterUniversity of Wisconsin Whitewater Campus FountainCowaLUNGa entertainment at UWW Student Center

Read more about housing, logistics and other event details here.

Additionally, every participant receives an event shirt and a finisher’s medal at the end of the route to commemorate the bike ride!

CowaLUNGa 2019 Costs & Deadlines

Registration fees and fundraising minimums vary by mileage. Early bird registration discounts are available until June 15.  First-time riders that select two or three day routes receive 50% off registration. Call 312-628-0200 for more information on or to register with our first-time rider discount.


CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour 2019 Registration fees chart

For more details, see Costs & Deadlines.

Funds raised support RHA’s programs:


Still thinking it over? Sign up for CowaLUNGa email updates.

Ready to ride CowaLUNGa 2019? Start your journey!

Nestor’s Giving Cancer a Run for Its Money

Before January 2018, Nestor Rivera had never even run a 5k. Now, less than two years later, he plans to run the Chicago Marathon with Respiratory Health Association’s Lung Power Team.

“You’d be amazed at what you can train your body to do,” Nestor says. “If you’re just consistent – not perfect – consistent.”

Nestor Rivera running a race

Nestor Rivera is going from couch to marathon in 2 years!

Nestor chose the Lung Power Team because of its mission to fight lung disease. His parents were in their teens when they began smoking. He recalls that his parents were chain smokers from the time he was born to the time he was 9 years old. As a child, he recognized them only with a cigarette in their hand.

But when his sister was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at age 21, they feared the possibility that their secondhand smoke had been a contributing factor in the development of her illness. They quit smoking right then. Then in 2013, Nestor’s mother Milagros went in for a lung biopsy to explore an unusual spot  found during tests. After the biopsy, Nestor got a call that he describes as “absolutely earth-shattering.”

“You think you’re going to get a phone call that says everything has gone routinely. Next thing you know, I got word that one third of her lung is gone.”

Nestor’s mother was diagnosed with stage one lung cancer and had a third of her right lung resected on the very same day. Immediately after the surgery Milagros’ breathing was different, but over time she settled into a new normal. Nestor says she’s now feeling great, and as of a few weeks ago, Milagros has been in remission for almost six years. “It’s amazing what your body can tolerate,” Nestor says.


Nestor Rivera with his parents in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

Nestor Rivera is running the Chicago marathon in honor of his mother, a lung cancer survivor.


His mother’s diagnosis made a huge impact on Nestor and was part of what spurred him to take up running. He’d never been a smoker, but he began to consider – what are other actions could he take to improve his overall health? Since his first race, the Chicago Cubs Race to Wrigley, Nestor has completed eleven more 5k races, two 10ks and a half marathon. He has three more half marathons on the docket for 2019 before running with the Lung Power Team in the fall.

“If there’s a challenge, I’m gonna take it,” Nestor says. “All you really need are a good pair of shoes. It’s not about getting the best time. It’s about achieving things that you didn’t think were possible.”

Nestor’s fundraising has now hit $3,016.20, putting him in first place towards the Lung Power Team’s $42,000 goal. His advice to fellow fundraisers?

Personalize the message.

In addition to his mother’s story, he also shares that his father-in-law has had chronic asthma his entire life. Nestor runs for him, too.

“When I’ve reached out to people individually, I’ve gotten more results,” he says. One challenge Nestor says he faces is that donors don’t feel they can contribute enough. “Some [people] think it’s better not to donate than to donate less than $100, but that’s not true. Every bit counts.” He notes how important it is to make every person feel like their donation makes a difference, no matter the amount.

His final note for fundraising matches his advice for training:


To help Nestor and his family fundraise for lung cancer research, asthma, and Tobacco 21, visit Nestor’s fundraising page.

RHA Staffers Hustle For The Mission

On February 24 more than 3,000 people came together in support of a future free of lung disease. A future with healthy lungs and clean air for all. The occasion? Hustle Chicago, RHA’s charity stair climb up 875 N. Michigan Ave., the building formerly called the John Hancock Center.

At RHA we don’t just serve our mission as part of our day jobs – almost every member of our staff participates in our events or volunteers personal time. And this year’s Hustle was no exception. The 2019 RHA Hustlers team brought 21 employees, friends and family together to go the extra mile (or 1,632 steps!) for lung health.

RHA Hustlers team photos at Hustle Chicago 2019

Why We Do What We Do

To share with you some of the passion the team brings to our mission, here’s a quote from RHA Hustlers team captain and RHA staffer, Lesli Vaughan.

“As many of you know, I work in tobacco cessation and prevention at RHA. Mainly that means I work to prevent teens and young adults from starting to smoke or use tobacco products and to help those who do smoke to be smoke free. It’s some of the most rewarding work I’ve done in my life.

There’s nothing quite like hearing someone who smoked multiple packs of cigarettes a day tell you how proud he is of himself because he is now smoke free for the first time in 40 years. Or see a high school student stand up in front of a room full of legislators to tell them why they should adopt a Tobacco 21 policy.

I always say I’m doing the easy work — it’s these people who do the hard stuff. I’m just there to support them.

Unfortunately, the tobacco industry has loads of money and they fight every single day to get more people hooked on cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and other tobacco products.

Despite their non-stop attempts, we can win this battle. But honestly, we need help to do it. As a small non-profit, we don’t have nearly as much money as the tobacco lobbyists that we fight against daily. Your support helps RHA reach new people with our Courage to Quit cessation program and educate more teens, lawmakers, and others about the dangers of tobacco.”

Together the team as raised over $17,000, but we’re still short of our overall fundraising goal for Hustle Chicago 2019.


You Can Make a Difference

Thanks to an anonymous donor, all fundraising campaigns in 2019 lead by RHA staff are generously matched $2 for every $1 raised. This effectively triples all gifts given to RHA staff campaigns!

If you’d like to support Respiratory Health Association’s work toward a future free of lung cancer, asthma and COPD and want to see your gift go three times further, donate to one of our RHA Hustlers today.

Joel Africk

Avanthi Chatrathi

Adrienne Hiegel

Mary Rosenwinkel

Magda Slowik

Brian Urbaszewski

Lesli Vaughan

Joann Wong

The Hustle Chicago fundraising deadline is end of day TOMORROW Friday, March 15th.

Over 30 advocates travel to Springfield for State Lung Health Education Day

With each visit, email, and phone call, dedicated individuals are creating change. Every step is a move toward a healthier, cleaner future.

On Wednesday, March 6, 2019, Respiratory Health Association’s (RHA) staff and lung health advocates traveled to the Illinois State Capitol for State Lung Health Education Day, RHA’s annual statewide advocacy event.

Over 30 constituents met with House and Senate legislators to support this year’s top policy priorities:

  • Tobacco 21
  • Clean Energy Jobs Act
  • Allow communities to ban the use of coal tar pavement sealants
  • Encourage the use of electric power vehicles
  • Increase the tax on cigarettes and taxing e-cigarettes

Constituents met with the following representatives and senators:

  • Costello
  • Davis
  • Durkin
  • Evans
  • Feigenholtz
  • Gabel
  • Gong-Gershowitz
  • Guzzardi
  • Harmon
  • Hernandez
  • Hurley
  • Kalish
  • Mussman
  • Ortiz
  • Slaughter
  • Smith
  • Tarver
  • Walker
  • Walsh
  • Welch
  • Williams
  • Yingling
  • Bush
  • Cullerton
  • Cunningham
  • Curran
  • Fine
  • Glowiak
  • Harris
  • Hastings
  • Hunter
  • Koehler
  • Landek
  • McClure
  • Mulroe
  • Murphy
  • Peters
  • Sims

During the visits, advocates thanked these legislators for supporting #Tobacco21 and informed them about other bills to support to continue furthering Illinois’ lung health including smoke-free initiatives, cleaning up the air, and including e-cigarettes and vaping products in the Smoke Free Illinois Act.

Tobacco 21 aims to raise the legal smoking age from 18 to 21 in Illinois. This will save lives by reducing the number of new smokers and smoking-related illness.  95 percent of smokers start before the age of 21, so this is a crucial time for prevention. For the economy, Tobacco 21 will also save on medical costs and lost productivity.

Group of volunteer advocates in the Illinois state capital building

RHA Lung Health Advocates in Springfield on March 6, 2019.

RHA Advocacy Wins

For over 110 years, RHA has been committed to effecting change through lung disease research, education and advocacy, and they have multiple previous successes:

  • Stock Emergency Asthma Rescue Medication, a law that permits schools to keep rescue asthma medication, such as albuterol, and allows trained school staff and nurses to administer the medication.
  • Illinois Future Energy Jobs Act, an innovative clean energy law that vitalizes Illinois’ economy by creating energy efficient programs, funding renewable energy, and producing thousands of energy efficient jobs.
  • Smoke Free Illinois Act, a law that prohibits smoking cigarettes in public spaces, including schools, offices, retail stores, and restaurants.

Did you miss State Lung Health Education Day?

Don’t worry, there are plenty of opportunities to be a lung health advocate! Join our E-Advocacy Team to support lung health at the municipal, state, and national levels. RHA offers plenty of opportunities to connect with your representatives through email, phone, and in person. Next year, everyone signed up as an e-advocate will receive updates about State Lung Health Education Day 2020.

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

Jewelry Television Partners with RHA to Support Women’s Lung Health

When you live with lung disease, not only is your breathing affected, but your peace of mind as well. Lung disease is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States.

Women, in particular, are at a greater risk of developing lung disease than men. Nearly 21 million U.S. women live with lung diseases like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer, and pulmonary fibrosis. Millions more have early symptoms but haven’t been diagnosed.

The numbers are breathtaking:

  • More than 13 million women in the U.S. have asthma – accounting for 65 percent of all adults with asthma
  • An average of 193 women die each day of lung cancer, one every 7 minutes.
  • An estimated 7 million U.S. women are living with COPD. Today, more women die of COPD each year than men.

Despite the data, women’s lung disease research is drastically underfunded compared to other causes of death. This disparity in funding leads to fewer treatment options and poorer health outcomes.

“Women’s lung health is the public health crisis no one is talking about. One out of every six women in the United States is living with chronic lung disease such as asthma, COPD, or lung cancer, yet federal research funding for these diseases is severely lacking,” says Joel Africk, President and CEO at Respiratory Health Association (RHA).

Table that shows disease funding and mortality rates

Despite lung disease as a top cause of death, lung disease research is drastically underfunded.

To address this disparity, in February, RHA launched its Catch Your Breath® Women and Lung Health Initiative.

Catch Your Breath was originally inspired by the life of a woman named Lynn Kotsiantos. From a Chicago suburb, Lynn was a non-smoking, healthy mother of three shocked to learn that she had lung cancer. After a nine-month struggle, she passed away in April 2003 at the age of 42.

In her honor, Catch Your Breath® continues as a women’s lung health awareness campaign. Catch Your Breath® was designed to raise awareness and funding for lung health research and programs. To improve treatments, Catch Your Breath® advocates for increased funding for research to better understand lung disease. The initiative also educates the public and medical professionals about the disproportionate effects of lung disease on women.

Respiratory Health Association's Catch Your Breath Women and Lung Health Initiative logo

One component of the Catch Your Breath® campaign is a partnership with Jewelry Television (JTV).

Throughout the month of February, JTV is offering a variety of promotions to its customers to support RHA and the Catch Your Breath® initiative, including a custom-designed butterfly pendant in the shape of the Catch Your Breath® logo. For each pendant sold, half the sales price will be donated to RHA. 

To locate JTV on your local cable provider, click here for the channel finder. JTV also livestreams daily broadcasts on its website.

custom-designed pendant in the shape of the Catch Your Breath logo

For each pendant sold, half the sales price will be donated to RHA.

“Our partnership with JTV is an important part of our women’s lung health campaign because we can reach such a large audience – it is critical we get people talking about this issue and work to turn the tide in the fight against lung disease,” explains Africk.

Visit womenslunghealth.org to help every woman breathe easier.

Kevin Is Climbing Against Cancer

Kevin Byrne was at work when his phone rang. As he looked down, he saw his parents’ number flash on the screen. He quickly shut the door to his office before answering. The tone in their voices immediately confirmed his worst fears: his mother’s biopsy showed that she had lung cancer.

“My family tends to live really long, healthy lives and we got comfortable with that fact. My mom has always taken very good care of herself and we didn’t expect anything like this early in her life,” says Kevin. “You can do everything right, but things like cancer can affect anyone.”

This jarring reality of a lung cancer diagnosis meant that Kevin’s mother Dianne, still only in her early 70s and until just recently the primary caretaker for her own mother, would now need help with her care.

Mother, son, and father pose together

From left to right: Dianne Byrne, Kevin Byrne and Pat Byrne

But with his family in Virginia and his life centered in Chicago, Kevin felt devastatingly distant. “What can I do from a distance? What’s the right thing to do?” he asks. “I wanted nothing more than to be there with them. Not being able to give her a hug – it was really tough, you know?”

Dianne’s treatment included radiation, but she also found that she was eligible for targeted therapy, a newer treatment option that was developed after research led to better understanding of how cancer grows. Targeted therapy uses medication to address specific changes or mutations present in a tumor and helps avoid damage to healthy cells.

“If I were to imagine a scenario where my mom had cancer, my mind would have gone to breast cancer. Breast cancer related organizations have done a good job with visibility,” Kevin acknowledges.

But Dianne’s diagnosis is common. Lung cancer kills more women each year than all other cancers— including more than breast, ovarian and uterine cancers combined. Still, federal funding for lung cancer lags behind other cancers, leading to less understanding and fewer treatment options. Advances like targeted therapy are only possible through research, and future discoveries could save lives.

Due to the success of her treatment and pain management regimen, Dianne and Kevin were able to recently go on a cruise together. Doctors have called Dianne’s improvement with targeted therapy very effective – not only have her tumors not grown, but some have reduced in size. Now, Kevin and his mom, along with the rest of the family, have plans to go to Universal Studios.

But before his next vacation, Kevin will participate in Respiratory Health Association’s stair climb event, Hustle Chicago, on February 24th. In doing so, he’ll help raise money for lung cancer research.

man practicing climbing stairs for Hustle Chicago on February 24, 2019

Kevin practicing climbing for Hustle Chicago on February 24, 2019.

To other climbers, he suggests breaking the race down into achievable goals. Subdividing 94 flights into 9 sets of 10 and 1 set of 4 makes the prospect of hustling up 875 N. Michigan Ave – one of the tallest buildings in the Western Hemisphere and an icon of the Chicago skyline – much less overwhelming.

two male climbers at Hustle Chicago pose together

Kevin and his Speedy Delivery teammate, Chris Walsh.



















Though Kevin’s goal of climbing to the top of a skyscraper is impressive, he emphasizes the extraordinary willpower of his mom.

“When my mom first got diagnosed, she basically thought her life was over. Once she got into treatment, we found that that was not necessarily the case. We’re just figuring out what lung cancer means for her. But it’s not what she had thought it was, in terms of the sentence.”

To learn more about women and lung cancer, visit womenslunghealth.org. To help Kevin and his mom fundraise for lung cancer research, click here.




RHA Receives $50,000 Grant to Improve COPD Discharge Practices

Approximately 1 in 5 patients hospitalized for COPD exacerbations in the United States are readmitted within 30 days. In 2015, sixty three percent of Illinois hospitals (and sixty nine percent of Chicago hospitals) reported excess readmissions for COPD. Among the factors contributing to high readmission rates within the COPD patient community are poor clinician-patient communications and lack of patient compliance with discharge instructions.

The Federal Hospital Readmission Reduction Program (HRRP) was established under section 3025 of the Affordable Care Act with the goal of improving healthcare for Americans by linking Medicare payments to the quality of hospital care.

Under the program, hospitals are financially penalized if they have higher-than-expected 30-day readmission rates. These financial penalties are in the form of reduced payments from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

HRRP gives hospitals a strong financial incentive to improve care coordination and post-discharge planning.

Nurse showing clipboard to patient in hospital ward

Respiratory Health Association (RHA) believes an enhanced hospital patient discharge tool for COPD will reduce COPD readmission rates by strengthening communications between clinicians and patients, improving provider adherence to COPD clinical guidelines and improving patient compliance.

To help RHA address this issue, Boehringer Ingelheim is providing a $50,000 planning grant to devise a COPD discharge tool.

This multi-phase project will draw upon the expertise of public health, clinical and design professionals, and the experiences of the COPD patient and caregiver community.

RHA will work with the University of Illinois at Chicago’s (UIC) Population Health Sciences Division’s Program for Heath Care Delivery Design. The UIC design team will create printed materials to educate discharged COPD patients on what they need to know post-hospitalization.

The project aims to improve quality of life among patients with COPD and reduce COPD-related hospital readmissions and associated healthcare costs.

RHA’s work with COPD

RHA works with over 80 Illinois pulmonary rehabilitation groups and more than 10,000 COPD patients as part of our COPD Initiative, which began in 2004 and continues today.

These experiences and patient interactions honed our understanding of the importance of improved communications between healthcare providers and COPD patients.

In 2017, RHA developed the COPD Caregiver’s Toolkit, a comprehensive resource designed based on caregiver, patient and health care provider input. The Toolkit is designed to empower caregivers with information and ways to support themselves through the caregiving experience, as well as information to support the care of the person living with COPD, has a positive impact on both caregivers and patients.

RHA Recognized as Outstanding Community Partner

Maintaining public health is a community responsibility. Without strong community partnerships, Respiratory Health Association (RHA) couldn’t make progress toward its goal of building a future free of lung disease.

On Wednesday, December 5, 2018, Metropolitan Family Services of Southeast Chicago honored RHA at their 2018 Annual Meeting and Holiday Luncheon.

Senior Program Manager Lainie Kast and Senior Program Coordinator Lesli Vaughan accept MFS Southeast Chicago's 2018 Outstanding Community Partner Award on behalf of RHA.

Senior Program Manager Lainie Kast (left) and Senior Program Coordinator Lesli Vaughan (right) accept MFS Southeast Chicago’s 2018 Outstanding Community Partner Award on behalf of RHA. Middle: Katlynn Bush, Adult Mental Health Program Supervisor

RHA received MFS Southeast Chicago’s 2018 Outstanding Community Partner Award for collaborating on the Chicago Quits project.

Founded in 1985, the Metropolitan Southeast Chicago Center is part of Metropolitan Family Services, an organization that supports Chicago-area families through community programs and services.

Some of their programs include:

  • Before and afterschool programs for children & teens
  • Employment/job readiness & placement for young fathers
  • Counseling and behavioral health services

Since 1857, Metropolitan Family Services seeks to empower Chicago-area families to reach their greatest potential and positively impact their communities.

RHA’s partnership with MFS Southeast Chicago covered the following key activities:

  • RHA trained staff members from MFS’ Adult Mental Health Program to deliver RHA’s Courage to Quit® adult smoking cessation program to individuals in their adult mental health program. Staff attended the Courage to Quit® Leader Training and received all program materials and quit smoking resources for free under RHA’s Chicago Quits In addition, RHA provided assistance and support as MFS planned and implemented Courage to Quit® programs on site.
  • RHA provided feedback and suggestions toMFS Southeast Chicago’s Adult Mental Health Program to improve their tobacco use screening and referral processes during client intake.
  • RHA helped MFS enroll as an Illinois Tobacco QuitLine referral partner to increase their tobacco treatment referral options.

Community partners like MFS help extend the reach and increase the impact of RHA’s tobacco cessation programming while gaining valuable resources to support the people they serve.


 Chicago Quits is RHA’s city-wide strategy to bring quit smoking services to Chicago communities most affected by tobacco use. Chicago Quits brings Courage to Quit®, nicotine patches and outreach to Chicago residents. Under Chicago Quits, RHA partners with 25 different health, social service, and housing organizations to deliver smoking cessation services at more than 100 locations across the city. Chicago Quits is funded with support by the Chicago Department of Public Health.


Courage to Quit® is an evidence-based group or individual tobacco treatment program for adults. This program is the cessation component of RHA’s integrated tobacco intervention initiatives.

Courage to Quit® Leader Trainings provide knowledge and skills for those looking to assist people who are interested in quitting smoking.

The next Courage to Quit® Leader Trainings are scheduled for:

Friday, February 1, 2019 (Register here)

Friday, June 7, 2019

Friday, October 18, 2019





RHA Partners with Third Graders to Reduce Tobacco Use

You’re never too young to be an advocate.

On Tuesday, December 4, RHA’s Tobacco team visited Ms. Walmsley’s 3rd grade class at the Village Leadership Academy (VLA), a Chicago elementary school with a progressive curriculum model.

VLA is unique because it incorporates social justice into the curriculum. Every grade level chooses a Grassroots Campaign, or service-learning community project to help solve a social problem, for the class to work on together.

Ms. Walmsley’s class identified tobacco and smoking as a problem in their school community, and RHA’s tobacco team was invited to address the class about the dangers of smoking, particularly e-cigarettes, which are a growing concern in schools across the country.

student wrote letter of advocacy to principal

Jamaal, third-grader at Village Leadership Academy, wrote to their principal regarding E-cigarette policy at their school.

The third graders were ambitious and knowledgeable, doing most of their research on E-cigarettes before the Tobacco team’s presentation, Ms. Walmsley reported. Her class asked about the about myths vs. facts, trends in tobacco use, chemicals in a cigarette, and the effects of tobacco use. Sometimes even appearing to “teach” the program leaders.

At the end of the session, each student wrote a letter to their principal, asking her to include language about e-cigarettes in their school wellness policy. The students were eager to make a difference, even at the local school level.

students writing letters of advocacy

Students from Village Leadereship Academy writing letters to their principal about e-cigarettes at their school

Previous work with Village Leadership Academy

In 2015, a kindergarten classroom from VLA identified secondhand smoke as the topic for their community project, and their teacher invited RHA to speak to the students about the effects of tobacco in the home and smoking free housing.

In addition to learning how secondhand smoke impacts their health, these young advocates committed to sending letters to landlords in their communities encouraging them to develop smoking-free housing and send smoke-free pledges to their families.

We hope that reaching these children at a young age and engaging them in advocacy will help keep them healthy and more likely to avoid deadly addiction later in life.

Additional Efforts to Reduce Youth Smoking 

Recently, RHA has led efforts to pass Tobacco 21, legislation that would restrict youth access to tobacco products, at the state level. Increasing the tobacco purchase age to 21 is an effective strategy to reduce youth smoking because it removes tobacco products from teen social circles.

As of October 29, 2018, six states — California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Oregon, Hawaii and Maine– and hundreds of municipalities around the US have raised the tobacco purchase age to 21.