Moving from elementary school to middle school was a big jump for me. Feeling like a small fish in the big pond made everything new and intimidating. Though, I was especially confused at the prevalence of the thin rectangle-shaped products that I would soon find out to be Juul pods.
Every time I would enter the school bathroom, it always smelled like a candy-store. I saw my peers in the bathrooms exchanging these sleek devices, all the “cool kids” seemed to have them. However at the time the usage did not strike me to be dangerous, I assumed that its prevalence made it just like any other trend.
Upon entering seventh grade, my health teacher would be the first adult to actually explain to my peers and I the harms of vaping and e-cigarettes. One day, she brought in two pairs of pig lungs, one representing a non-smoker’s lungs and the other a representation of a smoker's lungs. This was the first time it struck me that despite it’s trendy prevalence, vaping and e-cigarette usage is not a “cool” addition to middle school life, it is rather a dangerous one with severe long-term effects.
The image of a charred pair of lungs that would not inflate with air being pumped into it, made the consequences of e-cigarette usage seem very real to me. It shocked me to realize that if many of my peers continued to use such products their lungs may become as such too. Even now as a rising senior in high school, this realization drives me to combat Big Tobacco’s efforts to hook youth.
Since becoming an advocate, upon helping form a TUPE (Tobacco Use Prevention Education) club at my middle school, I have joined many organizations and local coalitions to help spread the message amongst my peers. The summer of 2020, I testified at several CA SB 793 hearings and was ecstatic to watch Gov. Newsom sign the bill to ban all flavored tobacco products right before my eyes on a Zoom call.
More recently, I decided to use the power of video production to direct a message to our government to take action. My documentary, BIG Tobacco BIGGER Epidemic, delves into the key factors in the youth e-cigarette epidemic, like Big Tobacco’s impact on youth and policy, and features experts like American Heart Association’s Emily Holubowich to formulate a future plan to eradicate the epidemic.
With the American Heart Association, I hope to continue my journey as an advocate to further change the course of the epidemic and continue the fight against Big Tobacco.