Vaping in NYC: A crisis among our youth

Vaping in NYC: A crisis among our youth

NEW YORK, NY– Following a high schooler from the Bronx, a Manhattan man has been confirmed as the second vape related death in the city as of late February. 

Jonathan Sosa, 34 years old, had preexisting health conditions, including apnea and diabetes, but an autopsy showed that his death was, in fact, due to his heavy smoking. 

New York City, one of the most well known and populated cities globally, has reached a vaping crisis, specifically among the youth. Between 2017 and 2018, more than one in six high schoolers admitted to the use of e-cigarettes, along with one in fifteen middle schoolers reporting usage of e-cigarettes. 

Jonathan’s sister, Christina Hernandez, explains, “We want people to know, the kids especially, that the doctors don’t know how to treat you with this illness from vaping.”

With the vaping related death toll rising to 2,807 nationwide, students as young as 13 years old are being affected by the outbreak, which the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention is calling EVALI. 

Kayla Holmes, sophomore at the University at Buffalo and Long Island native, describes her observations of vaping in her high school: “Kids used to hang out around school and vape together. They would hide their vapes in their bags and sometimes meet in the bathroom at lunch to smoke.” She adds, “I’m studying to be a nurse, so I know the toll vaping takes on the human body, and it’s sad to see so many people dying because of it.”

NYC iSchool junior, who wishes to remain anonymous, can say the same about the iSchool. “During my sophomore year, we had a huge issue with vaping. Students would meet up in the bathroom and the smoke would travel from under and above the stalls. I reported what was going on to administration after seeing it one too many times. I don’t think students really know what they’re doing to their body when they vape.” 

A map showing the number of cases and deaths nationwide due to vaping related illnesses.

According to this graphic, more heavily impacted states are those with large cities, including New York City. Five vaping related deaths have been reported in both Illinois and Indiana, along with four in California, but even one is too many.

The first death in New York City was actually a seventeen year old from the Bronx. After being hospitalized twice, the teen passed away in October 2019. 

The Harm Reduction Journal writes, “Some 438,000 smokers die from smoking-related diseases each year, including lung and other cancers, cardiovascular disorders and pulmonary diseases.” 

Emily Lukolic, senior at Forest Hills High School, spends her free time exploring the city. 

“I see people smoking all the time. Over time, I’ve seen less and less cigarettes, but more and more e-cigarettes like Juuls and Myles. I’ll be walking by someone and catch a whiff of it and it bothers me so much. Not only are they harming themselves but me via secondhand smoke. Not to mention, it harms the environment.” 

Lukolic also sees trends in vaping specifically among younger generations. “I’ll see someone that could be my younger sibling take out a Juul and start smoking it. I also see people who are not much older than me fall into the nicotine addiction, where they can’t live without their e-cigarettes.”

So, what are New York City law officials doing to curve the death rate caused by vaping? 

According to NYC Health, New York City laws prohibit “The use of e-cigarettes in all places where smoking is prohibited, including residential common areas, restaurants, sports arenas and workplaces” as well as “the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone younger than 21 [and] the sale of e-cigarettes without a valid e-cigarette retail dealer license.” 

In addition, beginning in summer 2020, the sale of flavored e-cigarette products will be prohibited.  

A sign outside of a smoke shop, luring customers in which their Juul sign, a popular e-cigarette company.

Studies have shown that “the tobacco industry is hooking the next generation of addicts, and flavors are a big way in. Four out of five kids who have used tobacco started with a flavored product.” 

Although the death of 34 year old Manhattan native Jonathan Sosa and seventeen year old Bronx native shows younger people are the ones being affected by the vaping crisis, also known as EVALI by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, e-cigarette companies are not exactly helping lure them away. 

A sign like this is commonly seen around New York City streets, in front of smoke and vape shops. Juul is one of the most well known and highly used e-cigarette, so for vape smokers to see that Juul is sold at this store, makes them more likely to go in and buy something.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “most companies now offer some form of flavored varieties… that sales of menthol-flavored e-cigarettes in traditional U.S. retail channels… more than doubled between 2012 and 2013, increasing from $96.4 million in 2012 to $215.7 million in 2013.” The tobacco and e-cigarette industry is just that– an industry. 

Money and business aside, people around the world, and in this case, New Yorkers, are dying as a result of vapes. Jonathan Sosa and seventeen year old junior from the Bronx, are 2 out of millions of New Yorkers who unfortunately fell to their demise because of vaping. 

Although New York City officials are taking steps in order to slow the death rate and illnesses related to the use of e-cigarettes, it can be very hard to stop once you’ve started vaping. “The more you vape, the more your brain and body get used to having nicotine, and the harder it is to go without it. When you go without vaping, the nicotine level in your bloodstream drops, which may cause unpleasant feelings, physical symptoms, and strong urges to vape.” 

The death of Jonathan Sosa, a 34 year old from Manhattan, and seventeen year old junior from the Bronx, only validates the severity of the vaping crisis in New York City. 

Angela Valentin, mother of Jonathan Sosa confides, “I loved my son so much. It broke me into pieces. It killed me. It was so unexpected. He was so young.”