Throughout the year, our blog will feature AHA volunteer stories of survival and hope. We know there are thousands of stories like these - thats why we want to say “Thanks” to all of you for giving your time and sharing your lives with us. You can’t spell CURE without U! Thank you for all you do to build healthier lives free of cardiovascular disease and stroke. YOU’RE THE CURE!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Britt: Big Tobacco's grand plan

The following cartoon by Chris Britt appeared in the State-Journal Register on March 30, 2011.

Health Organizations Demonstrate Success of Smoke Free Illinois Act and Ask Lawmakers to Preserve It

Studies show Illinoisans are healthier since Smoke Free Illinois began, saving the state more than a billion dollars in healthcare costs. Springfield, Ill. (March 30, 2011) – Supporters of the Smoke Free Illinois Act gathered at the Illinois State Capitol today to share research with lawmakers that proves that smoke-free laws have improved the health of Illinoisans. People in Illinois aren’t being hospitalized for tobacco-related diseases at the rate they were before the Smoke Free Illinois Act was instituted in 2008, and the state is saving more than $1 billion in health care costs.

Yesterday the House passed HB1965, which would allow smoking in Illinois gaming facilities again. Next they will review two other bills that would deteriorate the purpose of the Smoke Free Illinois Act. These bills include:

  • House Bill 1310 – Would allow liquor commissions to sell smoking licenses to bars, private clubs, casinos and other establishments.

  • House Bill 171 – Would allow designated, separated smoking areas in casinos.

“Secondhand smoke is the third leading cause of preventable death in America. About 2,100 people are dying annually in Illinois due to exposure to secondhand smoke,” emphasized Thomas Robbins, M.D., first vice president of the Illinois Division of the American Cancer Society and Director of the Simmons Cancer Institute at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. “The American Cancer Society believes that Illinoisans deserve to breathe clean air, free of the cancer-causing poisons known to exist in secondhand smoke. Smoke-Free laws reduce health care spending, improve employee productivity and encourage smokers to quit. We must stay focused on saving lives and keeping Smoke Free Illinois strong.”

The summary of the research presented with the reduction of hospitalizations since the Smoke Free Illinois Act is the following:

Smoke-free laws are good for business and good for health. A study performed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows that businesses face additional costs of $1,300 per year for each employee who smokes due to higher health insurance claims and costs, plus maintenance and cleaning costs for furniture, drapery and carpeting.

“Make no mistake, if the legislature strips away our protection from secondhand smoke, we’ll see more heart attacks, more cardiovascular disease, and more people racking up hospital bills instead of living healthy, productive lives,” said Edward Winslow,MD, MBA, cardiologist, business consultant, and American Heart Association representative.

It is important to remember that there is more than meets the eye for casino revenue in the state.

“The Illinois casinos that say they are losing money because of the smoking ban are not taking all of the factors into account, including the economy and the fact that our neighboring states have newer, nicer gaming facilities,” said Kathy Drea, Vice President of Advocacy for the American Lung Association in Illinois. “Iowa, Missouri and Wisconsin have more casinos with amenities such as restaurants, hotels, conference centers and more. These factors strongly affect the revenue numbers that are reported.”

Smoke Free Illinois has received an influx of calls from casino workers who are concerned about these bills getting passed and being forced to breathe in secondhand smoke in the workplace again. Luckily, some legislators are advocating for laws that will protect their health at work.

“Though I was not a legislator at the time Smoke Free Illinois was passed, this law is just as important today as it was a few years ago,” said State Representative Ann Williams. “Casino workers are very fearful that these important protections will be rolled back, returning them to a workplace where they are exposed to hours of heavy secondhand smoke. All workers, whether they work in a casino, restaurant or office, deserve protection from the dangers of secondhand smoke.”

Smoke Free Illinois supporters reiterated that this law is a good law for public health in Illinois. “The smoke-free law will save more lives than seat belts,” said Matt Maloney, Director of Health Policy at the Respiratory Health Association. “This is a matter of public health and absolutely should not be repealed or weakened. We can’t create a second class of workers who are not protected by the law.”

“Nothing has changed since the Smoke Free Illinois Act was implemented 2 years ago,” says Janet Williams, co-chair, Illinois Coalition Against Tobacco who compiled the attached heart disease data. “There is still no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. More than 30,000 heart attacks and other heart related hospitalizations have been prevented as a result of the Act, and we cannot afford to go backwards and put people at risk.”

Jim Nelson, Executive Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health added, “In the field of Public Health, there is no better example of the effectiveness of prevention than the positive impact of our comprehensive ban on secondhand smoke; it must be preserved.” For more information go to

Friday, March 25, 2011

Learn how to build a case for active living.

Join us this April for a panel discussion on how to build the case for active living. This free training has been made possible by the Communities Putting Prevention to Work Grant (CPPW). CPPW is an initiative of the Cook County Department of Public Health and Public Health Institute of Metropolitan Chicago, and supported by funds from the Centers for Disease Control.

Panelists include:
Lori Stern, Suburban Cook County School Health Advisor, Alliance for a Healthier Generation
Heather Gavras, Sr. Director, Community Health, American Heart Association
Steve Buchtel, Southland Coordinator, Active Transportation Alliance

WHEN: April 21, 10am – Noon
WHERE: Blue Island City Hall East Annex
2434 Vermont St. Blue Island

RSVP by April 15 by clicking here to register.
Free parking in lot across the street from the Annex
Four block walk from Vermont Street Metra stop

Come discuss and learn from experts in the field around:

Healthier Work Sites:
Investing in the health of employees is one of the best decisions a company can make. A critical first step is gaining the support of employees and top management. Learn about strategies and tactics to gain employee buy-in as well as secure leadership support.

Healthier Schools:
When schools do not address student and staff health by design, they deal with it by default. What messages and activities can build support for creating healthier school environments? Who are the key decision makers? How can you become more active in creating health promoting schools?

Healthier Communities:
When businesses are in bike and pedestrian friendly communities they are more likely to thrive economically. Especially when gas prices have soared and driving has declined, businesses need to think about attracting customers in new ways. Learn how to engage the business community in creating physically active and sustainable communities.

Want more information? Email Pamela Brookstein at or call 312-805-5319. See you there!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Connect with Your Legislators on Twitter and Facebook

Want to help post or tweet You're the Cure messages to your legislators? Check out this great resource! It provides a listing of lawmakers in Illinois who have social media accounts. "Like" or "Follow" your legislators today!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Cullerton eyes cigarette tax hike, GOP backs away

From Illinois Statehouse News, March 15, 2011

SPRINGFIELD — Democrats in the Illinois Senate may be on their own as they try again to raise the state's cigarette tax.

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, on Tuesday said he hopes to pass a $1 per-pack tax increase by the end of the week. Cullerton is framing the tax hike as a way to both offset money Illinois has not yet received for statewide construction projects and a path to help people quit smoking.

The original plan to pay for billions in new roads, schools, and bridges is tied-up in a legal challenge now before the Illinois Supreme Court. New taxes on beer and liquor, as well as newly legalized video poker were supposed to pay for all of the work. But video poker has been slow to roll-out, and one of Chicago's largest liquor distributors is challenging the liquor tax.

Cullerton said his cigarette tax would provide $300 million of dollars that the state needs now.

"This is not for the budget of the state of Illinois, it's for the capital bill," Cullerton said. "This money (will) make sure that we can continue to keep people working on the infrastructure projects that have been on-going this year."

Drawing that line, between construction and the state budget may help Cullerton shepherd the tax through the statehouse. The Senate president expects a vote in the upper chamber, perhaps as soon as Wednesday afternoon. He's hoping for cooperation from Republicans, and eventually from the Illinois House.

"We've been working on the capital bill together," said Cullerton. "I don't have an agreement, but I have hope that we have enough votes in the House."

Cullerton's hopes may be dashed. Senate Republican budget expert Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, said he'd be surprised if any GOP lawmakers sign on to another Democratic plan to raise taxes again this year.

The Senate president "wants to raise (the cigarette tax) by a dollar a pack, which is going to kill our border towns in particular," Murphy said.

The plan headed for a vote would phase-in the $1 per-pack tax, in two 50-cent increments. The earliest smokers could see the new tax would be July Illinois' current tax is 98-cents per pack, which is in line with other states.

Lawmakers in border communities say it's one of the few taxes that is not higher than all of our neighbors.

State Rep. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, said Missouri has lower taxes on cigarettes, and lot of other things that consumers buy each week.

"They already have less expensive gas over there because of our sales tax on gasoline," she said. "Alcohol likewise is taxed cheaper over there."

Tracy said another tax increase in Illinois would be a competitive advantage for Missouri.

Democrats along the border may also have a tough time voting for Cullerton's plan.
State Rep Pat Verschoore, D-Milan, said the Iowa side of the Quad-Cities draws a lot of folks across the river.

“We already have people going over to Davenport to buy cheaper gas," Verschoore said. "And if they put the cigarette tax, that’ll make our cigarettes more expensive than they are at Iowa. So they’ll pick up their cigarettes also. So I think it’ll harm our businesses, and I would probably vote ‘no’ on that.”

To the north, Wisconsin has been trying to poach Illinois businesses. State Rep Dave Winters, R-Rockford, said no doubt they'll go after Illinois smokers next.

"If you raise cigarette taxes substantially in Illinois, you'll see quite a change in consumer behavior. The hardcore cigarette smokers will not only go to pick -up smokes in Beloit, Wis., but they'd also typically get their groceries, and they may fill-up their gas tank when they're there."

Culleton has pushed for a cigarette tax increase in the past. He's suggested the same $1 per pack increase a number of times. The Illinois House has been reluctant to follow suit. Cullerton said Gov. Pat Quinn is on board with the plan, but isn't saying if the governor's support will bring any votes to the table.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Simon poll: Support grows for tax on smokes

By Rob Crow, The Southern Posted: Friday, March 11, 2011 4:00 am

CARBONDALE - Southern Illinoisans want state spending cuts made and don't want their sales and income taxes raised, according to results from the latest Southern Illinois Poll. But there is one area where they are willing to see a tax increase.

More than 60 percent of respondents said they would approve of the cigarette tax being raised by $1 per pack. Such an idea was rejected earlier in the year by the General Assembly.

The poll was conducted by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and it surveyed 400 registered voters in the state's 18 southernmost counties. Charles Leonard, visiting professor and polling director at the institute, said legislators may want to pay attention to the results when it comes to a cigarette tax.

"The state is desperately trying to fill gaps, and you're not going to find 60 percent support for anything else that will raise more than $300 million," Leonard said.

Only 26 percent of respondents were in favor of raising the state sales tax, and 64 percent disapproved of the recent income tax hike. Nearly 60 percent said the state can solve its budget woes by cutting waste, with no extra revenue increases - a scenario Leonard considered highly unlikely.

"I'm always a little surprised when an area as dependent on state spending as Southern Illinois is calls for cuts in state spending," Leonard said. "But, of course, we're always calling for cuts in other areas."

Related: Full Results of Simon Poll

Friday, March 4, 2011

Go Red For Women

The following letter to the editor appeared in today's Chicago Tribune.

If you were near the Illinois Capitol building on Feb. 9, you would have seen a slew of women legislators wearing red to spread awareness that heart disease is the number one killer of women.

According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease -- which includes heart disease and stroke -- claims the lives of nearly 34,000 people in Illinois every year. As co-chairs of Illinois' Conference of Women Legislators, we are proud to join with AHA's national Go Red For Women movement to deliver this important message about women's heart health. Women are at the "heart" of most families, and if they don't take care of their heart health, the whole family suffers.

Usually women are so busy taking care of others that they pay little attention to their own wellness. That's why it is so important for all of us to make it our mission to remind the women we love to pay attention to their health and to make healthy lifestyle changes at home and in their communities. Starting with ourselves, we must become more engaged in the fight to stop our number one killer – heart disease.

We Go Red for all of the women in Illinois because we don't want another woman to become a statistic. Who do you Go Red for?

-- Sen. Carole Pankau (R-23rd)
--Rep. Naomi Jakobsson (D-103rd)