IEPA Takes Public Comment on Volkswagen Settlement Spending Amidst Pressure from RHA, Partners

IEPA Takes Public Comment on Volkswagen Settlement Spending Amidst Pressure from RHA, Partners

At the end of May, RHA, our clean air advocates and partner organizations rallied together at the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago to demand that the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) use funds received in the Volkswagen diesel settlement to adopt the best clean vehicle spending plan possible. Held by the IEPA, this open meeting was the direct result of long-standing efforts by RHA and our partners to pressure the IEPA to take public comment.

The IEPA received nearly $109 million from the Volkswagen settlement after it was discovered that Volkswagen had installed software into its vehicles that masked the true level of emissions produced during emissions testing, thereby allowing U.S. diesel vehicles to emit up to 40 times the legally allowable level of pollution.

Money from this settlement was meant to fund clean vehicle projects that eliminate air pollution and prevent lung damage. However, IEPA’s draft plan for how to use this money was created in private meetings with business groups—without public input. The business groups pushed to cut emissions from trains, ferries and tugboats rather than on vehicles, which contribute more to air pollution and are central to the Volkswagen issue. As such, the plan largely reinforced investment in polluting fossil fuel use, prolonging smog and worsening global warming.

RHA, our advocates and our partner organizations pressured IEPA to take public comment on the plan—just like several other states that received Volkswagen settlement funds. The advocacy efforts eventually led to coverage in multiple media outlets, including the Chicago Tribune, Sun Times and Chicago Tonight. The Illinois Senate passed a bill that would force the IEPA to hold meetings and convene a task force to propose priorities for where and how to spend the money. Ultimately, a compromise plan was created that demanded that IEPA host open meetings in Springfield, East St. Louis and Chicago.

At the Chicago meeting on May 30, we called for cleaner, zero-emission, 100% electric transit vehicles and charging infrastructure. RHA hopes to ensure that the cleanest available technology solutions are used today and we continue moving toward zero-emission technology and electric vehicles.

Because of the efforts of RHA, our advocates and our partner organizations, IEPA is now much closer to using the funds to help reduce air pollution.

Respiratory Health Association Statement Applauding Illinois’s Adoption of Tobacco 21

Respiratory Health Association Statement Applauding Illinois’s Adoption of Tobacco 21

Respiratory Health Association congratulates the Illinois General Assembly on the passage of statewide “Tobacco 21” legislation raising the age to purchase tobacco products in the state from 18 to 21. With the enactment of this legislation, Illinois becomes the sixth state in the U.S. to adopt a Tobacco 21 law.

A cornerstone of RHA’s work has been to reduce the toll of tobacco on our communities, particularly among our youth. Growing support for Tobacco 21 had previously led to twenty-five communities across the state adopting local laws to raise the tobacco purchase age. These local laws covered approximately 30 percent of the state’s population and paved the way for statewide action.

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.

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.

“We estimate statewide Tobacco 21 legislation in Illinois will save $2 billion in future healthcare costs. This doesn’t even include savings in lost productivity costs, which could be nearly as much,” said Joel Africk, president and chief executive officer of Respiratory Health Association.

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. By passing Tobacco 21 now, we celebrate the 10th anniversary of that innovative policy by further protecting our youth from the harmful impact of tobacco.


Respiratory Health Association has been a local public health leader in Chicago 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

Lung Health Policy Update – May 2018

RHA’s policy team has been hard at work advancing state and local lung-friendly legislation in Illinois. Here’s what we have achieved with your generous support and advocacy.

Tobacco 21 Policies Gain Momentum

The age of 21 is important for tobacco prevention since 95 percent of smokers start before the age of 21. The majority of underage tobacco users get their tobacco from their peers. Raising the sales age to 21 would mean that high school aged adolescents would be in separate social networks from those who are most likely to supply them tobacco.

Aurora, Glen Ellyn, Peoria and Skokie recently adopted local Tobacco 21 laws in the last two months. That makes 24 municipalities in total covering 3,890,223 residents (30 percent of total state population covered). Legislation taking Tobacco 21 statewide passed the Illinois Senate last month and awaits a hearing in the Illinois House. Contact your State Representatives now to let them know you support Tobacco 21.

RHA Leads Efforts to Help Schools Handle Asthma Emergencies

Access to emergency asthma medication can save lives. Asthma takes a staggering toll on Illinois families, causing more than 300,000 missed school days and nearly 150 deaths each year, in addition to increasing healthcare costs for emergency department visits. The ‘Stock Emergency Asthma Rescue Medication’ bill would help school districts in Illinois better serve students with asthma by permitting schools to voluntarily maintain a stock of asthma rescue medication and permitting trained staff to administer the medication during episodes of respiratory distress. This legislation passed the Illinois Senate with unanimous support and awaits a hearing in the Illinois House.

Illinois House Advances Medication Coverage Protections

Families in Illinois shop carefully for a health plan that provides the benefits they need. But no laws in Illinois prohibit changes in coverage during the course of the policy year while consumers are locked into their plans. Midyear reductions in coverage often cause “non-medical switching” – the practice in which stable patients are forced off their original medications, regardless of clinician recommendations and health consequences. Patients who rely on medications to keep their health stable should be able to shop for coverage without fear that their benefits will be changed or eliminated during the policy year. The legislation passed the Illinois House and awaits hearing in the Illinois Senate.

New Chicago Ordinances Target ‘Other Tobacco Products’

In April, the Chicago City Council passed an ordinance with a number of initiatives to target ‘other tobacco products’ (non-cigarette products). The new ordinance requires tobacco retailers in Chicago to post warnings at the store entrance addressing the dangers of other tobacco products. Other tobacco products like little cigars, cigarillos, and other cigarettes are often starter products for youth and young adults. Among these populations, there is considerable misinformation about the health risks and addictive nature of these products. While Chicago’s youth cigarette smoking rate reached historic lows this year, surveys show that Chicago teens now smoke cigars and e-cigarettes at greater numbers than cigarettes. The ordinance also bans free samples and further limits the use of tobacco coupons in Chicago.

Unfair Subsidies for Old Coal-Fired Power Plants in Illinois

Vistra Energy—which recently bought the company that owned nine of Illinois’ oldest coal power plants—is asking Illinois to make state residents pay higher prices for their coal plant-generated electricity—even though the power plants are already profitable. This is occurring at a time when billions of dollars are being invested in building new clean wind and solar power projects in Illinois. RHA opposes the subsidies for dirty coal.

Separately, but at the same time, Vistra is asking for the Illinois Pollution Control Board to relax air pollution rules for its coal fired power plants so that it has greater freedom to shut down coal power plants with pollution controls and to run dirtier plants without pollution controls harder, increasing air pollution. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is opposing this air pollution increase as well. RHA continues to fight both of these efforts aimed at prolonging the use of dirty coal power.

Allowing Communities to Ban the Use of Toxic Coal Tar Pavement Sealants

The original language would have allowed counties and municipalities to ban the use of coal tar sealants high in carcinogenic materials, including materials linked to lung cancer. While discussions were held to move this legislation forward, details could not be worked out before the legislative deadline passed.

Keeping the Legal Authority to Test and Ticket Polluting Trucks

This bill would eliminate the authority of the Illinois State Police to stop, test and ticket excessively smoking trucks in the Chicago and E. St. Louis regions. In testimony last week, the State Police conceded they have not been enforcing this law since 2005 when they broke their smoke testing equipment, and have not replaced it since. RHA testified in favor of keeping the legal authority to test and ticket big trucks, as many polluting trucks remain on the road and excessive smoke worsens both respiratory conditions and heart conditions. We noted that other states like New Jersey continue to test trucks and have even stricter limits on tailpipe pollution than Illinois law. Unfortunately the State Police’s claim that they would have to spend up to $1 million to replace the equipment, among other reasons, meant legislators have continued to support eliminating powers the state police have not used in recent years.

If you’d like to support RHA’s advocacy and policy work, join our e-advocacy team today.

What is ‘Non-medical Switching’ of Prescriptions?

Under current Illinois law, there’s nothing that prevents coverage changes during the course of the policy year when participants are locked into their plans. These midyear changes in coverage often cause “non-medical switching” – the practice in which stable patients are forced off their original medications, regardless of clinician recommendations and health consequences.

RHA joined with partners to support legislation that prevents insurers from changing co-pays or coverage of medicines during a plan year. The legislation, HB 4146, passed the Illinois House Insurance: Health and Life committee and awaits a hearing of the full House of Representatives.

medical drugs close up

The issue of non-medical switching was brought to our attention by our friends at University of Illinois at Chicago pharmacy.  Many patients with chronic health issues, including respiratory diseases, are being forced off their current medications or prices shift for their medication. When these changes occur, other drugs may not control their symptoms adequately.

“Medical care is not one-size-fits-all,” said Matt Maloney, Director of Health Policy at Respiratory Health Association. “Making coverage decisions based solely on cost and forcing patients to change can cause unnecessary anxiety, all while ignoring the complexities that inform a patient’s individual care plan.”

We believe that when families in Illinois carefully shop for a health plan that covers the benefits they need, they should be guaranteed the coverage they signed up for the duration of the policy year.

It is especially important that patients who rely on medications to keep their health stable can purchase insurance coverage without fear that their benefits will be changed or be eliminated during the policy year.

HB 4146 is sponsored by State Representative Laura Fine and has bipartisan support with more than 50 other co-sponsors.

Want to help RHA’s legislative efforts? Join our Advocacy Champions group to make your voice heard.

RHA heads to Springfield to make our voices heard!

RHA’s annual State Lung Health Education Day gives advocates the opportunity to visit Springfield and gather support for lung-friendly initiatives. For seasoned advocates and newcomers alike, we want to empower you to speak up for lung health. Just sharing your story can be enough to influence policy and improve lives for years to come.


This year’s trip took place Wednesday, April 18, 2018.

lung health advocates meet with legislators

Lung health advocates visit legislators.

The full day event includes a coach bus ride from Chicago to Springfield, advocacy training, a tour of the Capitol building, meetings with legislators, and a sit-down lunch with special guest speakers.


This year, we talked to our legislators about:


Raising the minimum legal sales age of tobacco products from 18 to 21, or Tobacco 21, is a fast growing, nationally recognized youth tobacco prevention strategy that has been adopted in 20 Illinois communities and we are pushing it statewide. Most smokers (95%) begin smoking before age 21. By getting young people past that critical threshold for brain development and addiction, we can dramatically lower the number of people who start smoking and become addicted to smoking. This will lower smoking rates, prevent disease and save long-term health care costs.


Asthma is a significant public health issue in Illinois, impacting educational outcomes, quality of life, productivity and health care costs. SB3015 would improve access to live-saving medication by allowing schools to maintain a stock of asthma rescue medication. Improving access to asthma rescue medication (Albuterol) would reduce school absences, hospitalizations and long term healthcare costs, improve health outcomes, and save lives. 


  • Protecting Illinoisans from Unfair Coverage Changes (House Bill 4146)

Families in Illinois carefully shop for a health plan that covers the benefits they need when they are locked into their plan. Midyear reductions in coverage often cause “non-medical switching” – the practice in which stable patients are forced off their original medications, regardless of clinician recommendations and health consequences. Patients who rely on medications to keep their health stable should be able to shop for coverage without fear that their benefits will be changed or eliminated during the policy year. House Bill 4146 would protect against unfair pharmacy coverage reductions during the course of the policy year.


Thank you to everyone who joined us in Springfield this year!

Follow RHA on Flickr to see great images from State Lung Health Education Day and other RHA events.

Decreasing youth tobacco use across Illinois

With the support of RHA and other organizations, State Sen. Julie Morrison (D-Deerfield) and State Rep. Camille Lilly (D-Oak Park) have introduced legislation to raise the minimum age for tobacco sales in Illinois from 18 to 21.

Known commonly as Tobacco 21, the effort aims to curb youth smoking, which will lead to fewer adult smokers in the future and result in substantial long-term health care savings.

“Statistics show that 95 percent of smokers start before the age of 21,” said Matt Maloney, director of health policy for Respiratory Health Association. “By raising the age of sale for tobacco to 21, Illinois will greatly reduce smoking among high school children.”

“Our goal is to create the first smoke-free generation,” said Joel Africk, President and Chief Executive Officer of Respiratory Health Association. “Tobacco 21 gives us a great chance of making that happen.”

Each year in Illinois, 5700 teens under the age of 18 become new daily smokers. If these rates persist, 230,000 Illinois teens alive today will die prematurely from smoking.

The economic impact of smoking is staggering. Each year, tobacco use costs Illinois $5.49 billion in health care costs and $5.27 billion in lost productivity, according to research from the Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids. “By reducing youth smoking, we can make a meaningful change in the adult smoking rate and reduce these staggering costs,” said Africk.

Nearly 300 cities across 16 states, plus the states of California, Hawaii, New Jersey, Maine and Oregon have enacted Tobacco 21 laws. In Illinois, Tobacco 21 has been adopted by Evanston, Chicago, Oak Park, Deerfield, Highland Park, Naperville, Maywood, Lincolnshire, Vernon Hills, Berwyn, Buffalo Grove, Elk Grove Village, Mundelein, and unincorporated Lake County, and it is being considered by dozens more communities.

Public support for Tobacco 21 gives a big boost to this year’s legislative effort.  New polling data shows that 65 percent of registered Illinois voters support Tobacco 21. With your advocacy and support we can continue to gain ground.

To join our efforts to pass statewide Tobacco 21 and create a smoke-free generation, take a few clicks to email your local lawmakers.

Save the Date – State Lung Health Education Day is April 18

On April 18th we’re bringing a busload of volunteers down to Springfield to meet with state lawmakers and educate them on lung disease and efforts to improve lung health. Whether you’re a seasoned advocate or a newcomer we want to empower you to speak up for lung health. Just sharing your story can be enough to influence policy and improve lives for years to come. The full day event includes a coach bus ride from Chicago to the Statehouse, advocacy training, a tour of the Capitol building, meetings with legislators, and a sit down lunch with special guest speakers. Email Matt Maloney at to reserve your seat on the bus.



Governor Rauner’s EPA is poised to eliminate air pollution safeguards that would allow THOUSANDS MORE TONS of air pollution into the air you breathe every year.

According to today’s Chicago Tribune, Illinois EPA and the state’s largest polluter, Dynegy. Inc. have been rewriting Illinois air pollution laws in secret since last year, and are now poised to propose a massive increase in how much pollution Dynegy’s EIGHT huge ancient coal power plants in Illinois would be able to emit.


As much as 10,000 TONS more smog and soot pollution than they are emitting now.


As early as NEXT YEAR.


The most likely reason is that Dynegy wants to run its cleanest coal plants – the ones equipped with modern pollution scrubbing equipment – LESS often, and wants to run its dirtiest most polluting coal power plants MORE. They could make more money by running their cheaper dirtier power plants, but YOU will wind up paying the price.

Whatever rollbacks the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and Dynegy are able to force through will eventually have to get approval from state legislators before Dynegy would be allowed to run its dirtiest coal power plants more oftern – so YOUR legislators can help stop this attack on clean air.

You can take action! RHA has prepared an email that encourages legislators not to approve these rollbacks. Our e-advocacy system makes it easy for you to send the email directly to Governor Rauner and your legislators. Send your emails now.

For more information about RHA’s clean air initiatives, contact Brian Urbaszewski via email at or by phone at (312) 628-0245.


Celebrating Tobacco 21 Success

Village of Maywood is recognized for raising tobacco purchase age.

RHA has presented the Village of Maywood with a Lung Health Champion award in recognition of its trailblazing Tobacco 21 ordinance. In May, the Village Board unanimously voted to raise the minimum legal age for tobacco product sales in the village from 18 to 21. The ordinance took effect immediately.

“Someone has to step up and take a stand and we, the village of Maywood have taken one… it’s to save a generation that’s coming behind us,” said Mayor Edwina Perkins at the time of enactment. The Institute of Medicine projects that Tobacco 21 could reduce overall smoking by 12 percent by the time today’s teenagers become adults.

It’s been a busy summer for Tobacco 21 advocates. In addition to Maywood, the villages of Berwyn, Buffalo Grove, Lincolnshire and Vernon Hills have adopted ordinances, bringing the total number of municipalities in Illinois to 11. This week, Lake County became the first in Illinois to raise the minimum age to buy cigarettes, tobacco products and electronic cigarettes to 21 in unincorporated areas of the county.

Want to bring a Tobacco 21 ordinance to your community? Contact Matt Maloney, RHA’s Director of Health Policy, via email at or by phone at (312) 628-0233.

Tobacco 21 from Cook County Public Health on Vimeo.


Fisk & Crawford Coal-Fired Power Plants Closed August 2012.


Five years ago this month, Respiratory Health Association helped secure the closure of Chicago’s two biggest polluters, the coal-fired Fisk power plant located in Pilsen and the Crawford plant in Little Village.

Together they emitted thousands of tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) every year, forming ozone smog and fine particle pollution. Their closures have saved an estimated 210 lives, prevented 330 heart attacks and avoided 3,600 pollution-caused asthma attacks – notable health victories worth celebrating at this five-year anniversary mark.

Years of effort by RHA’s staff and advocates as well as our Chicago Clean Power Coalition partners, working with the Chicago City Council and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, made these victories possible.

Of course, once the confetti was swept up we got right back to work.


Since that time we have achieved additional air quality improvements through our clean energy policy work and by educating individuals, business leaders and elected officials about clean-running vehicles and clean construction policies. Last year, RHA helped pass the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA), making Illinois a nationwide leader in clean energy by expanding clean renewable solar and wind energy, reducing the use of coal and enacting better energy efficiency policies, all of which will lead to cleaner air.

Unfortunately, dirty coal plants continue to operate in Lake and Will counties as well as downstate, degrading air quality across the region. We are continuing our long-term legal and policy change strategies to combat these polluters. You can help RHA achieve our vision of clean air for all: donate now and sign up for RHA’s e-advocacy team to be part of our efforts.