2012 Policy Successes

Respiratory Health Association celebrated many momentous policy successes in 2012. For more than a decade, we worked to clean up two coal fired power plants in Chicago, and saw them both close in September. Our persistent tobacco efforts also paid off and the state passed the first tobacco tax increase in 10 years. These initiatives will save thousands of lives and improve the health of our communities.

We are proud of our accomplishments and know we could not have done it without supporters like you. Thank you for lending your voice and helping make these historic policy victories a reality.

Advocates celebrate closing of coal-fired power plants

For more than a decade, Brian Urbaszewski, our director of environmental health programs, has worked to clean up or shut down the Fisk and Crawford coal-fired power plants in Chicago. Pollution from the plants contributes to an estimated 720 asthma attacks, 66 heart attacks and 42 premature deaths each year.

In February, with growing pressure from community groups to adopt a Clean Power Ordinance, Mayor Emanuel reached a deal with the plant owners, Midwest Generation, and community organizations that would close both plants by 2014. Both plants closed by September 2012, eliminating the two of the single largest air pollution sources in Chicago and improving air quality across the region.

We had additional successes in further reducing coal pollution beyond Chicago's borders. The State Line coal plant - only feet from Chicago's South Side - closed in March 2012. This victory saves 24 lives and prevents 420 asthma attacks and 38 heart attacks every year. We also called for an end to Chicago's reliance on coal-powered fuel in its aggregation plan. We succeeded; in December, Chicago bought power on behalf of nearly 1 million electricity customers in the city and none of this electricity will come from coal power plants. More power will come from clean renewable energy sources.

Tobacco tax increases will save lives

In June, Gov. Quinn signed into law the first tobacco tax increase in 10 years, raising tobacco by one dollar per pack. Because young people are very sensitive to tobacco prices, this state tax will prevent more than 77,000 youth from ever starting to smoke. The increase will also encourage nearly 50,000 current smokers to quit. This law doubled the tax on other tobacco products, including chewing tobacco, cigars and smokeless tobacco.

Later in the year, Cook County also raised the taxes on a pack of cigarettes. That increase was set to go into effect in 2013, and further decrease the smoking rates in our region.

Volunteers impact policy in Springfield, Washington, D.C.

During our State Lung Health Education Day in April, an enthusiastic group of people living with lung disease, medical professionals and volunteers visited the state capital to advocate for bills that protect lung health. Advocates met with lawmakers to share support for lung-friendly legislation and share their stories of living with lung disease.

Advocates also participated in United for Lung Health and traveled to Washington, D.C., in June to meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Through our visits, representatives in Congress gained a better understanding of what it is like to live with COPD, to manage a child's asthma or to care for people living with lung cancer. Members of Congress have since agreed to join the COPD caucus and more members signed on as cosponsors of the Lung Cancer Mortality Reduction Act.

Leading region in COPD network

Based on the success of our leadership of the Illinois COPD Coalition, Respiratory Health Association was awarded a grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to convene a regional network to address COPD. The Midwest COPD Network includes partners in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. Through that project, we have provided distance learning opportunities for pulmonary rehab participants and we have led advocacy trainings to empower patients to petition lawmakers for enhanced recognition and support for COPD.

Asthma policy makes a difference

In January, Chicago Public Schools passed its first standalone asthma policy with our strong support. The policy mandates that all staff who interact with children are trained on asthma every two years. Respiratory Health Association will deliver Asthma Management to train these staff members. Also, parents will now be asked to submit asthma action plans for their children, and a general asthma action plan will be in place for students who do not have one on file. This was a major victory to protect children with asthma while they are at school.

Continuing our policy work in 2013

Whether it's reducing the dangers we face from air pollution, reducing the toll of tobacco on our state or improving access to healthcare, Respiratory Health Association will continue to shape policies to protect lung health in Illinois communities. Our staff and volunteers join together to advocate for increased tobacco prevention activities, cleaner vehicles and power sources, critical medical research and improved access to quality care. Our work supports policies that protect the air we breathe and improves the lives of people affected by lung disease.

For more information about these victories or learn how you can be more involved please contact Matt Maloney:
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