American Lung Association Supports Federal Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Asthma Disparities

Plan Highlights Need for Congress to Continue Support for CDC's National Asthma Control Program & EPA's Tools for Schools Program

Statement of Albert Rizzo, MD, Chair, American Lung Association Board of Directors

Washington, D.C. (May 31, 2012)

When not well controlled, asthma can rob people of health, quality of life, and the security of knowing they will be able to draw their next breath. The American Lung Association is pleased that President Obama’s Task Force developed a federal action plan to reduce racial and ethnic disparities among the 25 million people in the United States who suffer from asthma.

The American Lung Association, however, is deeply troubled that the Obama Administration has released this plan at the same time they have proposed eliminating the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Asthma Control Program. The National Asthma Control Program works with states and community-based organizations to implement proven public health responses to asthma and to ensure that surveillance measures that track progress in reducing asthma attacks are in place. The Environmental Protection Agency’s indoor air programs have been cut, including the proven Tools for Schools program that has succeeded in improving environmental conditions and reducing asthma triggers in schools across the country. This program must be restored.

Asthma affects people of all ages, races, genders and segments of society. But the burden is not equally shared across racial and ethnic groups. It is most often a disease of the young and of the poor. Children and people living below the poverty level are among the groups most likely to have asthma and most likely to suffer from severe asthma attacks, hospitalization and even death. Non-Hispanic blacks and Hispanics of Puerto Rican descent suffer from asthma at much higher rates than do Non-Hispanic whites. Nearly one in 10 (9.8 percent) of blacks and 15.7 percent of Puerto Ricans have asthma.

Missing from this plan is a stated commitment to making all federally assisted housing smokefree. While the plan recognizes the harm from secondhand smoke, the Task Force stopped short of committing to a policy change that eliminates the health threats from secondhand smoke for children and adults who live in federally-assisted housing. While the American Lung Association urges local housing authorities to continue their efforts to become smokefree, the time has come for the federal government to set a date and commit to requiring that federally-assisted housing be smokefree. To date, over 250 local housing authorities and 27 states have adopted smokefree policies. This one step can have an immediate and lifesaving impact on the health of millions who depend on federally assisted housing, especially people with asthma.

We applaud the commitment to go beyond departmental and agency boundaries to organize this work. We support the priorities in the plan: to reduce barriers to better asthma management; to enhance the capacity to identify and to provide care to those with asthma; to reduce exposure to triggers and improved research to reduce the onset of asthma among children.

The Coordinated Federal Action Plan marks an important step to reducing the burden of asthma among racial and ethnic minorities. Yet serious hurdles remain and must be addressed through policy change. For this plan to succeed, the nation must maintain strong funding and legal authority for the federal agencies to act. Continued reductions in federal resources – as well as state and local budget cuts – make the job even harder.

The Lung Association looks forward to participating in the next stages of the plan, and to share resources, such as the organization’s asthma webpage www.lung.org/asthma, its nationwide Asthma Clinical Research Centers, its Asthma Friendly Schools Initiative, and 2011 report Luchando por el Aire: The Burden of Asthma on Hispanics. The Lung Association has additional resources for policymakers, advocates and community leaders in its National Asthma Public Policy Agenda and Guide to Asthma Policy for Housing & Schools.

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About the American Lung Association
The American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease, through research, education and advocacy. The work of the American Lung Association is focused on four strategic imperatives: to defeat lung cancer; to improve the air we breathe; to reduce the burden of lung disease on individuals and their families; and to eliminate tobacco use and tobacco-related diseases.  For more information about the American Lung Association, a holder of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Guide Seal, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit: www.Lung.org.