A Recap of 2021 Lung Health Advocacy Victories

Together we made great progress toward healthy lungs and clean air for all during the spring legislative session. With your support, we advocated new laws and changes to benefit the health of everyone in Illinois. Join us in celebrating these victories,:

  • RHA worked with the Illinois Department of Public Health on an advocacy effort to increase statewide funding for asthma education in Illinois. These efforts resulted in an additional $1 million in funding for school-based asthma education.
  • SB2294 will encourage more Illinoisans to quit smoking by providing expanded Medicaid coverage for FDA approved quit smoking medications, tobacco counseling services, and telephone-based quit smoking services provided through the Illinois Tobacco Quitline.
  • HB3202 will add e-cigarettes and other vapor devices to the state’s health education programs in schools.
  • SB512 will prohibit companies from marketing e-cigarettes to minors and from running misleading e-cigarette advertising.
  • HB1779 will provide easier access to care for people living with cancer by not requiring prior authorization for biomarker testing, which can guide health professionals in developing a treatment plan.
  • HB1745 will reduce out-of-pocket costs for Illinoisans’ prescription drugs, like asthma and COPD medications, by requiring insurance companies to offer plans with predictable co-pays or cap these amounts.
  • HB3498 makes innovative telehealth approaches permanent, so Illinoisans can continue to access critically needed care beyond the pandemic regardless of transportation, scheduling barriers – and with less stigma or risk to safety.
  • SB2563 expands vehicle emissions testing by permitting owners of vehicle service companies to operate an official portable emissions testing company – a win for clean air.
  • SB2133 focuses on health equity by ensuring the state reports data related to race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disabilities for public health indicators, such as COVID infections.

Want to get involved with our advocacy efforts and help promote laws that will benefit everyone’s health? Learn more and sign-up to receive our emails here.

COVID-19 Summer Updates: Continuing to Protect Yourself

senior people toasting wine glasses summer covid-19 updates

About one third of the United States is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and nearly 72% of adults 65 or older are fully vaccinated. The CDC has stated fully vaccinated people (people who have received two doses of Pfizer or Moderna, or one dose of Johnson & Johnson at least two weeks ago) can resume most normal activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing. As holidays approach, families may want to gather to celebrate. However, there are still some COVID-19 summer updates to consider:

  • If a family member shows signs of illness before gathering, it may be best to reschedule until symptoms pass or the person receives a negative COVID-19 test.
  • Keep in mind that some businesses, restaurants, or situations may still require you to wear a mask. Call ahead or check online if you’re unsure.
  • Planning a family trip? Planes and public transportation still require masks. Take steps to protect yourself while traveling – wash your hands often, monitor your symptoms, and cover any coughs or sneezes.
  • Older adults with underlying conditions may want to continue to wear a mask at large indoor gatherings or crowded events.

If you have not already, it is important to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible. Studies show COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing the disease, especially severe disease and death, and reduce the risk of people spreading it.

It is also important to monitor the advice given by the CDC and other federal, state, and local authorities. We will continue to provide guidance and education on protecting you from COVID-19, so please reach out with any questions.

Building a Healthy Future Together

Your support made it possible for us to have an impact in communities throughout Illinois and beyond this past year. Together we faced new challenges, found new solutions, and made progress toward a future free of lung disease. As we come to the end of our program year, we want to share some of our work to prevent lung disease, promote clean air, and help people with lung disease live better lives.

Project STRENGTH for COPD

Thanks to support from the Learn More Breathe BetterSM program of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, we created resources that provide information on how people with COPD can live well at home. Each informational packet aims at keeping people with COPD healthy and provides guidance to help build exercise routines, manage breathing, put together a nutrition plan, and more.

Improving Our Asthma Programs

We collaborated with University of Chicago to conduct a formal evaluation of our two asthma programs – Fight Asthma Now© and Asthma Management. The evaluation showed kids and parents participating in these programs learned a lot about asthma triggers, medications, and staying healthy. The results were even better with repeat sessions.

A New Approach to Quitting

We began testing a new format for our Courage to Quit® program that helps people stop smoking. The new “rolling” model allows people to attend group Courage to Quit sessions with more flexibility, which increases accessibility and makes the program work for more people. We’re pushing forward to expand this idea and increase access to the program in the coming year.

Educational Webinar Series

In August, we launched a new educational webinar series. Lung health content reached nearly 1,000 people on important topics like COVID vaccines, women’s lung health, lung cancer screening, and environmental justice issues. Because the programs were entirely online, we were able to reach a national audience.

Funding Asthma Education

Asthma is the No. 1 cause of school absences due to chronic illness. RHA led an advocacy effort to increase statewide funding for asthma education in Illinois. These efforts resulted in an additional $1 million in funding for school-based asthma education.

group participating in event to help people living with lung disease

Lung Cancer & COPD Research

We awarded two grants to fund promising research into lung cancer and one new COPD research award. One of the lung cancer studies is looking at a specific gene mutation that can cause cancer even in non-smokers. Our annual Solovy Award for Advancement in COPD was awarded to support the research efforts of Dr. Nadia Hansel at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

School-based Asthma Policy Study

We conducted a study to see how well school staff understand current rules about asthma inhalers in schools. We found that 60% of school nurses in Illinois surveyed didn’t fully understand current rules that allow students to bring and use their inhalers in school. We will now focus some of our program resources on educating school health staff to better serve students.

Investing in Clean Air

In April, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency released a plan to invest $88.6 million in electric public transportation, school buses, and charging infrastructure for electric cars. For years RHA has given testimony and fought for money to support clean transportation because transportation is a leading cause of air pollution. This investment is a huge victory for clean air.

woman with stat about helping people with lung disease

Women’s Lung Health Research

Thanks to amazing growth in our Catch Your Breath® women’s lung health initiative, we were able to partner with CHEST Foundation to fund a new research award addressing gender disparities in lung disease. Lung disease impacts one in every six US women, and this award will increase research into the unique aspects of lung disease in women.

To learn more about the educational programs, research, and policy work your contributions support, as well as to receive updates on our work toward healthy lungs and clean air for all, sign-up for our monthly newsletter.

If you’d like to support RHA’s work to prevent lung disease, promote clean air, and help people living with lung disease, you can donate here.

Three Asthma Myths Uncovered

More than 25 million people across the U.S. live with asthma. While there is no cure, people can manage their asthma to prevent flare-ups (also known as attacks or episodes) and live well. Asthma is one of the most common lung diseases but also one of the most misunderstood. May is Asthma Awareness Month, and we want to share some common myths about this disease.

Myth: Asthma is a childhood disease.adult man inhaler asthma

While asthma does occur often in kids, adults can develop asthma at any age. In fact, changing hormone levels, allergies, or even illness can cause asthma.
Unfortunately, when many adults start to experience changes in their breathing or can’t keep up like they once did, they assume they’re out of shape or it’s a normal part of aging. Women are at an even greater risk for severe asthma as adults than men.
Remember: it’s important to talk to your health care provider about any changes in your breathing.

Myth: Coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath are the only symptoms of asthma.

These symptoms are common with asthma, but there are other less-commonly known symptoms that may be early asthma warning signs.
  • Itchy chin or throat
  • Watery eyes
  • Dark circles under eyes
  • Stomach ache: for some children it is hard for them to identify where their pain is coming from so when they say their stomach hurts, in reality it may be hard for them to breathe
Sometimes these warning signs may be mistaken for other things like allergies or colds. It’s important to recognize that these changes may be a sign that someone’s asthma is worsening.

Myth: If you live with asthma, you should not exercise.

People who have their asthma well-controlled should be able to continue doing things they enjoy, like exercise.
Proper asthma management includes:
  • Avoiding triggers
  • Knowing your signs and symptoms of an asthma flare-up
  • Maintaining your supply of asthma medications and carrying it with you as necessary
  • Having an asthma action plan that lists specific steps you should take to prevent or handle an asthma episode
You can help us raise asthma awareness with a donation today. Your gift supports Respiratory Health Association’s programs like Fight Asthma Now©, which teaches kids how to manage their asthma.

RHA Statement on FDA’s Proposed Menthol Cigarette Ban

In Lung Health Victory, FDA Plans New Product Standards to Ban Menthol Cigarettes and Flavored Cigars

Today the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced plans to issue product standards within the next year to 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.

Respiratory Health Association applauds the FDA decision to move forward with greater regulation of these harmful products.

The soothing sensation of menthol cigarettes makes them easier to smoke and potentially harder to quit; and because they feel less harsh, they have greater appeal to new smokers and young people.[i]  In fact, 70% of youth smokers use menthol cigarettes.[ii]  And because big tobacco companies have intentionally marketed menthol cigarettes to Black communities since World War II, it is not surprising that nearly 9 in 10 Black smokers (88.5 percent) of all ages use menthol cigarettes.[iii]

Both the FDA and the U.S. Surgeon General have established that menthol cigarettes contribute to racial health disparities in the U.S.[iv],[v]   Therefore, banning the sale of menthol cigarettes is an important step in broader efforts to achieving racial equity in health.  Further, a ban on all flavored cigarettes and cigars will decrease youth smoking and could increase the impact of successful cessation efforts, particularly among communities of color, low-income communities, and LGBTQ+ individuals.

RHA looks forward to moving toward a policy that focuses on industry accountability and not criminalizing possession.

Respiratory Health Association is committed to continuing to fight to reduce the burden of tobacco-related illnesses in our communities and believe removing flavored tobacco from store shelves is the right thing to do. Big Tobacco, a multi-billion-dollar industry, must be held responsible for the distribution of products that addict young people and increase the harm caused by smoking.

[i] https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/tobacco_industry/menthol-cigarettes/index.html

[ii] Gardiner PS. The African Americanization of Menthol Cigarette Use in the United States. Nicotine and Tobacco Research 2004; 6:Suppl 1:S55-65 [cited 2018 Jun 12].

[iii] https://truthinitiative.org/research-resources/traditional-tobacco-products/menthol-facts-stats-and-regulations

[iv] Food and Drug Administration. Preliminary Scientific Evaluation of the Possible Public Health Effects of Menthol Versus Nonmenthol Cigarettes pdf icon[PDF–1.6 MB]external icon. 2013.

[v] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Smoking Cessation. A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2020.

Clean Air Protects Lung Health

earth day clean air healthy lungs

Did you know more than 137 million Americans live in communities with unhealthy levels of air pollution? Clean air is critical to protecting lung health. While air pollution is bad for anyone to breathe, it is especially dangerous for people living with asthma, COPD, and other lung conditions.

Breathing polluted air can irritate your lungs and may cause shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, asthma flare-ups, and chest pain. It also puts you at risk for lung cancer, heart attacks, stroke, and even death.

While we continue to make progress, air pollution remains a serious environmental and health problem. Additionally, as global warming accelerates, climate change will impact public health and put people living with lung disease at additional risk.

By taking small steps together, we can protect our air and our health. Watch this message from Joel Africk, RHA’s President & Chief Executive Officer.

How to Protect Lung Health and Promote Clean Air

  • Walk, bike, or use public transportation when possible.
  • Try to reduce your waste and recycle.
  • Try to avoid gasoline-powered lawn equipment like leaf blowers.
  • Raise awareness by telling people about the importance of clean air. Sharing this message on social media is a great start!
  • Advocate healthy lungs and clean air for all with us!

COVID-19 Vaccines and Lung Disease

covid-19 vaccines armAs COVID-19 vaccines become available to older adults and people living with chronic conditions like lung disease, it’s important to consider scheduling an appointment for yourself. Older adults, as well as people with COPD, are at greater risk for experiencing more severe health outcomes related to COVID-19. Getting the shot is safe for people living with lung disease and is the best way lower those risks. It also helps protect your loved ones and community.

One of the best ways to schedule your free COVID-19 shot is by calling your primary care provider. If you don’t have a primary care doctor, try calling local pharmacies, clinics, or community health centers. They may have vaccines available for you. If you prefer to make an appointment online, you can do so through Zocdoc. Keep in mind that two of the currently available vaccines require two doses.
In addition, family or informal caregivers who live in Cook County, Illinois are eligible now. Call your local Aging and Disability Resource Center to complete a three-question phone screening. After the screening, caregivers will receive a letter certifying their status as a family caregiver.
The Chicago Department of Public Health is additionally offering a new program for people who have a difficult time leaving home. The Chicago Fire Department will come to homes to provide vaccinations for eligible seniors 65+ and their caregivers. The program is available for Chicago residents who are seniors or people with a disability who:
  • Require in-home assistance or
  • Need equipment and/or accessible transportation to leave home.
If you are interested in receiving your shot at home, fill out this online form and someone will reach out to you via email with more information.

Celebrating Organ Donors and the Lives They Impact

Every February, National Donor Day celebrates and recognizes those who changed the lives of others through organ donation. According to Donate Life America, 113,000 people in the U.S. are currently waiting for life-saving organ transplants. Thousands of those are living with lung cancer or other chronic lung diseases like pulmonary fibrosis.

One person’s organ donation has the potential to save as many as eight lives of those in need.

Respiratory Health Association works with a number of people who have received a second chance at life through an organ donation. Each of them has dedicated their time to giving back in the hope of helping others living with lung disease.

Steve Ferkau     

“I am only here as a result of improved research and treatments into lung disease. I am a miracle of science and the generosity of my donor Kari and her family.”

 

 

 

 

man and woman outside

Tim Thornton

“It was surreal that you could go from not being able to breathe to thinking that you have a second chance with a new set of lungs. I am forever grateful to the donor’s family who made the decision to donate the gift of life.”

Read Tim’s story

 

 

 

man walks daughter down the aisle

Tom Earll

On the third morning after his transplant, Tom could see downtown Chicago from his bed. The sun rose, reflecting off the glass buildings. “I sat up and took a deep breath. I got hit with this wave of emotion, and I burst into tears because I realized that this was my new normal.”

Read Tom’s story  

To learn more about how organ donation can make an impact or to add your name to the donor registry, visit organdonor.gov.

Jewelry Television Partners with RHA for Women’s Lung Health

Living with lung disease not only affects your breathing, 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.

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 8.5 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. At a time when lung health couldn’t be more important, we want to generate awareness about women’s lung disease and raise funds for ongoing research efforts.

“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, RHA launched its Catch Your Breath® Women and Lung Health Initiative.

Lynn Kotsiantos originally inspired the Catch Your Breath campaign. 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® raises 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. Additionally, the initiative 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).

butterfly jewelry blue and purple

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 lineup of colorful butterfly-themed jewelry. For each piece from the collection sold, JTV will donate 50% of the sales price to RHA.

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

“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.

Our Sponsors

pulmonx logo Jewelry TV logo

 

Give today to support our fight against lung disease. 

Protect Your Family with a Home Radon Test

Radon is an odorless, colorless gas that occurs naturally in the environment. It can enter homes through cracks in the foundation and go unnoticed for long periods of time – potentially causing long-term lung health problems for those living inside. Breathing in radon can damage cells in the lungs and even lead to lung cancer. Exposure to radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, causing nearly 21,000 deaths annually. January is Radon Action Month, a great time to test your home for unsafe levels of this gas and take steps to remove it if needed.residential street

According to the U.S. EPA, nearly one in 15 homes has elevated radon levels. Home testing is the only way to identify elevated levels of radon, but you can purchase affordable, do-it-yourself test kits from most hardware stores and online.

There are a variety of short-term testing devices that take between two and 90 days to complete. These are good if you need quick results.  Long-term devices remain in the home for more than 90 days. They may provide a more accurate radon average as levels vary from season to season.

If test results are above 4.0 pCi/L — a measure of radioactivity in a liter of air — you should take additional steps to reduce radon levels. The Illinois Emergency Management Agency has a list of professionals trained to mitigate radon in residential areas who can help you address these issues.

Experts recommend testing your home every two years.

Have additional questions about radon gas or how you can make sure your home is safe? Learn more with our library of radon-related resources.