RHA hosts annual stair climb event outdoors in 2021

For Immediate Release

March 23, 2021

Erica Krutsch, Director of Marketing & Communications


[email protected]

Hustle Chicago® charity stair climb to take place outdoors, with masks April 18

The event benefits Chicago lung health nonprofit Respiratory Health Association

CHICAGO, IL – Amid other signs of spring and a slow return to post-pandemic ways of life, a Chicago tradition will take a new shape in 2021. The Hustle Chicago stair climb, formerly known as Hustle Up the Hancock, will take place Sunday, April 18.

This year’s event will be held outdoors at Soldier Field and will feature several changes to ensure a healthy and safe climb. These efforts included limited capacity, mask requirements, social distancing, and sanitization procedures. There is also a virtual event option available.

“We are excited to be able to host an in-person event for the first time in over a year,” said Joel Africk, President & CEO, Respiratory Health Association. “We are confident that by working with our host venue and medical experts we have modified Hustle Chicago stair climb to provide a safe experience. The event gives people a chance to exercise and support our mission of healthy lungs and clean air.”

Respiratory Health Association hopes the event will raise $500,000 to support local lung health work including educational programs for people living with diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and funding for research into new treatment options for lung cancer and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).

Participants in the climb come from all walks of life and many are personally impacted by lung disease, including Ron Fiege, a resident of Ingleside, IL.

“I thought ‘what a great way to add a different exercise into my work out and raise some money for a very good cause’ because I have asthma and my sister and a few very close friends have COPD,” says Fiege, who is climbing in his second Hustle Chicago event this year. “When I talk to my sister, and she is smiling through her very short breath, it inspires me and reminds me that I’m very blessed to be as healthy as I’m at this point in my life.”

Limited spaces are still available for the in-person climb for a $55 registration fee and $100 charitable pledge. Virtual event registration costs $35. Visit resphealth.org/hustle to learn more and register.


A public health leader since 1906, Respiratory Health Association (RHA) is dedicated to its mission of preventing lung disease, promoting clean air and helping people live better lives through education, research and policy change. To achieve that goal, RHA collaborates with researchers in pursuit of new treatments and cures for disease like asthma, COPD and lung cancer; empowers adults and children by teaching them skills to manage their health; delivers evidence-based tobacco cessation programs; and works with lawmakers to craft innovative policies that build a more equitable and sustainable future.

Electric Vehicle Parking Ordinance Is a Lung Health Win for Chicago

In late April, the Chicago City Council, with support from Mayor Lightfoot, passed an ordinance which requires new residential buildings with five or chicago trafficmore units, and non-residential developments with 30 or more parking spaces to have 20 percent of parking spaces “electric vehicle ready.” Those spaces must have plugs to charge an electric vehicle (EV) – one that operates only on electricity – or wiring to add one in the future.

Respiratory Health Association supported this effort to require new buildings and developments in Chicago to provide charging options for EVs. People living in single family homes can easily plug-in an EV to charge overnight in a private garage. However, it is more difficult for those who rent or live in condos.

Over 20,000 electric vehicles are already operating in Illinois, primarily in the Chicago area. EVs operate without emitting harmful tailpipe pollution. They are also charged with electricity that is increasingly generated by clean wind and solar power. We expect the number of vehicle models to increase over the next several years as prices continue to fall.

Approximately 100,000 Americans die every year just from breathing dirty air, and that will continue until we stop the threat of air pollution. By making it easier for more people to drive electric, actions like this will help build a healthier future for everyone.

US Passes National Tobacco 21 Law

Enforcement Needed to Ensure Law Isn’t Just Smoke and Mirrors

Chicago, IL – In December 2019, Congress passed legislation raising the national purchase age of tobacco products (including e-cigarettes) from 18 to 21 years old. President Trump signed the bill into law and it took effect immediately, making it illegal for retailers to sell tobacco and e-cigarette products to anyone under 21.

Respiratory Health Association (RHA) fully supports efforts to raise the minimum purchase age of tobacco products, especially since 95% of adult smokers take up the habit before they turn 21. On its own, however, this new law is not enough. RHA urges further action from the federal government to prevent youth smoking including:

Enforcement of the new law: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it will take up to 270 days to develop and implement enforcement guidelines. Based on CDC estimates, more than 400,000 youth will smoke their first cigarette during this time. With 19 states including Illinois already enforcing their own Tobacco 21 laws, the federal government should have the necessary existing knowledge and resources to more efficiently craft policies for enforcing the national law.

Continued efforts to restrict youth access to tobacco and e-cigarette products: While Tobacco 21 is a great first step toward curbing teen smoking, a more comprehensive approach to preventing tobacco and e-cigarette use is needed. This includes moving forward with a previously proposed measure to remove all flavored vaping products (including mint and menthol) from the market. These flavoring have proven effective in attracting and addicting young smokers.

Tobacco 21 offers clear public health benefits, but it’s important lawmakers continue fighting disruptive practices from the vaping industry. Products remain unregulated and untested, and these companies should not be allowed to continue deflecting on safety concerns in light of this new law.

As new policies are developed, it is up to individual states to continue fighting for the health of teens and against the tobacco industry’s influence. RHA and its partners worked hard to ensure the passage of Tobacco 21 in Illinois, and now we urge Illinois lawmakers to move forward with a ban on flavored tobacco products.

Supporting additional public education and awareness initiatives: A key part of reducing youth smoking is showing teens that these products are dangerous and addictive. Expanding educational content and programs for youth can help offset the billions being spent by the tobacco industry to market tobacco and vaping products. Additional investment is needed at the state and federal level to provide necessary resources needed for these efforts.


FDA’s New E-Cigarette Policy Isn’t Enough to End Youth Vaping Epidemic

For Immediate Release

Chicago, IL January 02, 2020 – Today the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued new policies regarding enforcement against certain flavored e-cigarette products. These new policies, however, will fall far short of what is needed to keep teens away from these addictive nicotine products.

By only restricting flavors in cartridge-based products and allowing menthol flavorings to remain on the market in all forms, the FDA is leaving too many ways for Big Tobacco to target and addict kids across the country.

“Nicotine is an addictive, dangerous drug that harms brain development and poses other significant health risks,” says Joel Africk, President and CEO, Respiratory Health Association. “No level of chemical aerosol inhalation is good for the lungs, and other long-term health impacts of these products are completely unknown.”

The vaping industry’s illegal marketing to children has been well documented, and one of the industry’s largest players, JUUL, has been sued by the FDA for making illegal claims about the safety of their products.

“We cannot trust companies profiting off addiction with the health and safety of our nation’s children,” continues Africk.

The FDA’s new policy comes in response to skyrocketing rates of youth e-cigarette use. Currently one out of every four high school students reports using e-cigarettes and the majority report using products in candy and fruit flavors.


Respiratory Health Association has been a local public health leader in Illinois since 1906 focusing on lung health and clean air issues. 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, smoke-free laws, Tobacco 21 and other tobacco product policies.

Share the Love with Respiratory Health Association on Giving Tuesday

Respiratory Health Association is participating in Giving Tuesday – a global giving day celebrating philanthropy and charity work in communities – on December 3! By supporting a local charity like RHA, you are helping make a positive impact in your community. You are making a difference for yourself and your neighbors.

This year, all Giving Tuesday donations up to $1,000 will be matched by RHA’s Board of Directors! Thanks to this generous support, your gifts will reach even further to help our healthy lungs and clean air programs, including:

  • Delivering our Fight Asthma Now© education program for students in underserved communities
  • Supporting emerging researchers in their relentless pursuit for innovative new treatments for lung diseases
  • Advocating for clean air policy; ensuring everyone has clean air to breathe

For over 100 years, we have addressed the greatest lung health needs – from tuberculosis to lung cancer – because we believe in healthy lungs and clean air for all.


The challenge match will be given in the form of a donation to RHA’s general fund and will not impact individual fundraising totals.

Save the date: COPD Patient Conference

Join us on Thursday, November 21, 2019 for Respiratory Health Association’s 16th annual Living Better Together COPD Conference at Meridian Banquets and Conference Center in Rolling Meadows, IL. RHA’s goal at the 2019 COPD conference is to promote disease awareness and to help people who are living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to become educated consumers of healthcare, as well as effective disease self-managers.

At last year’s event, nearly 300 individuals living with COPD, caregivers and pulmonary rehab staff enjoyed a variety of sessions, including a moderated keynote, “Living Everyday with COPD”. Panelists Ravi Kalhan, MD, MS and Harvey Wolf, Psy.D shared recommendations on preventing COPD exacerbations, methods for monitoring symptoms of COPD, and tips to manage the comorbidities of anxiety and depression in patients with COPD.

Conference planning is under way and people living with COPD and their caregivers will not want to miss this year’s event. Registration will open in September. Supplemental oxygen and bus transportation from locations throughout Chicagoland will be offered.

Living Better Together is the country’s largest patient-focused COPD conference. We welcome individual or group attendance. If you have any questions about Living Better Together logistics, programming or attendance, please contact RHA program coordinator Avanthi Chatrathi at (312) 229-6186 or [email protected].

COPD Caregiver’s Toolkit a Success

In August 2018, RHA was awarded funding from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s (NHLBI) Learn More Breathe Better Program to launch a pilot study of caregivers’ acceptance of the COPD Caregiver’s Toolkit.

The Toolkit was developed in 2017 by RHA, with the support of Illinois Institute of Technology, after a significant gap was found in educational and support resources dedicated to informal caregivers. Grounded in health theory, the Toolkit is organized into five sections, each which address a different aspect of caregiving.

In order to measure caregivers’ acceptance and perceptions of the usefulness of the Toolkit, RHA distributed 215 Toolkits to providers at Illinois pulmonary rehabilitation groups and clinical practices in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. These providers distributed 95 of these Toolkits to informal caregivers between August and October 2018.

Participating caregivers were then surveyed three months after receiving the Toolkit on the usefulness of the Toolkit in carrying out their caregiving responsibilities. Eight caregivers also participated in one of two focus groups at the Living Better Together Conference on November 15th, 2018 to provide more in-depth feedback about the Toolkit. Finally, six providers who distributed the Toolkit participated in key informant interviews between January and February 2019 to give feedback about the Toolkit’s usefulness to informal caregivers and where the Toolkit fit into the flow of COPD care and management.

Initial findings show that the Toolkit is meeting a need for caregivers

Even though most of the participating caregivers had at least one year of caregiving experience, a majority of them found the information provided in the Toolkit to be relevant to their caregiving duties, highlighting a need for this tool as a supportive resource.

In addition to aiding in caregiving duties, results show that the Toolkit helped caregivers take time to care for themselves. Participants in the study reported that the section on self-care in the Toolkit helped them gain perspective on their role and sacrifices they have made as caregivers, as well as helped them feel more comfortable taking time to focus on their own emotional and physical health.

Up next: distributing the Toolkit to a larger audience

Based on feedback from caregivers and providers, Toolkit distribution will focus on caregivers of newly diagnosed COPD patients and those of patients recently hospitalized due to a COPD exacerbation. RHA also plans to create a user’s guide to accompany Toolkit distribution as a way to help informal caregivers integrate this tool into ongoing caregiving activities. Finally, RHA also plans to develop a training or webinar for health care providers to provide guidance on how to introduce the Toolkit to patients and their informal caregivers on how to use the Toolkit effectively.

For a more comprehensive overview of results from this pilot study, please refer to the COPD Caregiver Toolkit Full Report.

Together We Made Strides toward Cleaner Air

RHA has worked for decades to reduce pollution from industrial sources like power plants and the millions of vehicles operating in Illinois.  This spring, your advocacy visits, emails and phone calls led to substantial victories for clean air. We also gained ground on important policies we’ll continue to advance next session.


Clean Energy Jobs Act Continues to Build Momentum

The ambitious Clean Energy Jobs bill continues to gain momentum with 49 co-sponsors in the House and 27 in the Senate by the end of May – with many joining as co-sponsors after RHA’s Lung Health Education Day in March.

The bill would ensure all electricity comes from non-carbon sources by 2030 (no fossil fuels) and all electricity comes from clean renewable sources by 2050; that the benefits of clean energy development from this transition are distributed equitably; and that efforts to electrify transportation remove the emissions equivalent of a million cars from the air people breathe.

RHA will continue to build on this momentum until the General Assembly comes back to Springfield in October.


Long-Standing Prohibition on State Action to Address Climate Crisis is Repealed

Legislation passed this session will remove a law passed 20 years ago that prohibited Illinois from enacting any policies to reduce greenhouse gases and tackle the climate crisis. The vote reflects that the state legislature increasingly sees an unstable climate as a health threat, especially for vulnerable people and those living with chronic medical conditions.

Removing this restriction means Illinois can now forge a more effective climate strategy and implement stronger greenhouse gas reduction policies, which will help expand clean renewable energy resources and reduce ozone smog. As the Sun-Times noted, Illinois could now even require tighter pollution limits for cars.


Clean Energy – Clean Air Victories in State Budget and Capital Spending Plan

The new state budget and capital plan passed this spring included several provisions to reduce emissions from electricity generation and transportation. Some harmful ideas were prevented as well.

Early versions of the capital plan included a $1000/year registration fee for any electric vehicles (EVs), which would have been a serious blow to the small but quickly growing market in Illinois just as more affordable EVs are beginning to show up at dealerships. In the end, zero-emission EV registration fees were raised to the same level as fossil fuel-powered vehicles and an extra $100/year fee was assessed since EV don’t contribute to state gasoline taxes. While this eliminated discounted registration fees for EVs, one of the very few incentives Illinois had to encourage people to by zero-emission vehicles, it also means EV fees are only a quarter of what was initially proposed.  Electric vehicles will still save drivers hundreds of dollars a year on gasoline not bought, and help reduce smog and greenhouse gas pollution!


Other victories this year in the state budget:

  • $50 million for the Renewable Energy Resources Fund. This supports the Illinois Solar for All program, which prioritizes new solar electric generation projects and solar job training in low-income communities.
  • $70 million is in the capital plan for renewable energy and energy efficiency programs for state facilities. This is sufficient funding to reduce 5% of state building energy usage, which will lower power demand and air pollution.
  • $70 million is in the capital plan to construct electric vehicle charging infrastructure in low income communities, helping ensure all communities can use electric vehicles.
  • $20 million is re-appropriated and another $60 million is appropriated from the Volkswagen emissions cheating settlement fund. Illinois EPA can now spend $80m on electric vehicle projects in the coming year that help reduce emissions from transportation sources to clean the air.


Together we’ve made great strides toward cleaner air, healthier lungs and a more sustainable future.

If you’d like to get move involved in Respiratory Health Association’s advocacy work, become an Advocacy Champion today.

RHA’s Counsel to Quit Program Takes New Approach to Help People Quit Smoking

Research shows that just 3-10 minutes of counseling from a healthcare provider can increase an individual’s success in quitting smoking by 60%. Unfortunately, smokers often don’t receive counseling when they meet with their doctor, nurse, mental health counselor or other provider. Whether it’s because of time constraints, lack of knowledge about effective tobacco treatment or lack of confidence that counseling patients to quit smoking actually works, many providers do not speak with patients about their tobacco use. But the research is clear— quitting smoking is something providers should be talking about with every tobacco user at every visit.

To help address this issue, RHA developed the Counsel to Quit® brief tobacco intervention training. Counsel to Quit® is RHA’s 60- or 90-minute interactive training program designed to help providers have a conversation with their patients about quitting smoking.  The training is based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) “Ask, Advise, Refer” model, which teaches healthcare professionals to ask their patients if they smoke or use tobacco products, advise them to quit, and refer them to appropriate cessation treatment. Attendees learn to use motivational interviewing techniques to more effectively have a conversation with patients about their tobacco use and motivate them to take steps towards quitting.

Following the training, RHA continues to provide assistance to organizations to help them integrate tobacco use screening and referral processes across their practice. Ultimately, RHA hopes the Counsel to Quit® training will help facilitate system-wide changes in how each organization screens patients for tobacco use, refers them to resources and documents this information in the patient record.

Most recently, RHA offered the Counsel to Quit® training as a webinar for providers unable to attend in-person. Over 40 healthcare and social service providers from the Chicagoland region participated.

To date, RHA has offered Counsel to Quit® to over 1300 providers. Recent research shows that attending a training results in significant improvements in providers’ perceived value of cessation counseling, confidence and ability to discuss smoking cessation and knowledge on the role of electronic cigarettes in tobacco cessation among medical, mental health and other providers. We are proud of these achievements and look forward to continuing our collaborations with health and social service providers to address tobacco use in our communities.

If you would like to learn more about bringing Counsel to Quit® to your organization, contact Lainie Kast, Senior Program Manager at [email protected] or 312-628-0241.

RHA Recognizes Youth Advocates, Awards DeYoung Medal at Annual Recognition Night

Respiratory Health Association (RHA) believes in a future free of lung disease. A world without lung cancer, asthma or COPD. A world with clean air, where everyone breathes easier. RHA can’t build that future without devoted advocates, supporters and partners.

On Thursday, October 11, RHA recognized some of the outstanding volunteers and supporters that share the vision of healthy lungs and clean air for all and help bring it to life.

New this year was the Making A Difference Award for RHA’s Next Gen Advocates. Ranging in ages 7-19, this dedicated group of young people:
• pushed for funding increases in lung disease research
• helped convince lawmakers to adopt laws that better equip schools to handle asthma emergencies
• advocated for Tobacco 21 policies at the local and state level so their generation will not become prey to Big Tobacco

Critical to RHA’s recent advocacy successes, these young people have shared their voices to improve community lung health, and shape lung health policy. Congratulations to Maddie Bertrand, Nicholas Fandl, Michael L. Johnson, Jr. , Michael T. Johnson, Ian Piet, Elizabeth Pyrz, Jon Rivers, and Lauren Wilson.

Young advocates, ranging in ages 7-19, were acknowledged for their commitment to improving community lung health.

It’s wonderful to have new advocates and supporters joining the RHA cause. RHA will flourish if even one of them becomes as dedicated of a supporter as this year’s winner of the Herbert C. DeYoung Medal.

The Herbert C. DeYoung Medal-an award established to honor the late Mr. DeYoung for his 50 years of service—is RHA’s highest honor for volunteer service. This year it was awarded to an exceptional volunteer that demonstrated more than a 20-year commitment to Respiratory Health Association: Cindy Gronkiewicz.

Pictured from left to right: Gina Schwieger, Cindy Gronkiewicz, Joel Africk

Over the years, Cindy has been instrumental in RHA’s asthma, COPD activities, and tobacco control programs, serving on planning committees, providing RHA staff with technical assistance and always recruiting nurses to participate. She serves on the RHA Board of Directors and served as a past Board chair.

Cindy and her husband, Mark, have been generous supporters of RHA’s annual Chill event at the Merchandise Mart, the CowaLUNGa Bike Tour, Hike for Lung Health, multiple RHA fundraisers and RHA’s One Home capital campaign for a much-needed rehabilitation of the Association’s West Loop office. Congratulations to Cindy and thank you for all you do.

Other outstanding partners, volunteers and event participants recognized for their contributions to RHA’s success included:

Making a Difference Award for Lung Health Partners
• Office of Epidemiology, Chicago Department of Public Health
• Rush Health System

Making a Difference Award – CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour – Organization
• Purdue University Global

Making a Difference Award – CowaLUNGa Charity Bike Tour – Individual
• Joan Mulcahy

Making A Difference Award – Hike for Lung Health
• Rebecca Weinberg-Doptis

Making A Difference Award – Hustle Chicago
• Maureen Campbell

Making A Difference Award – Outstanding Volunteers
• Bill and Marilee Kulterman

Making A Difference Corporate Partner Award
• Aurelio’s Pizza

Respiratory Health Association relies on the support and contributions of dedicated individuals and organizations to prevent lung disease, promote clean air and help people live better lives. To get involved with RHA, email [email protected] or check out one of our upcoming events.