Tag Archives: teenagers

High Schooler Takes a Stance Against Flavored Tobacco

Ninety percent of adult smokers develop a tobacco addiction as teenagers or earlier. Since 2009, e-cigarettes have become a worrisome gateway to regular smoking. Addressing this dangerous habit early is critical in the journey towards a tobacco-free generation. In 2018, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams officially declared e-cigarette use among youth an epidemic in the United States.  Now is the time to take action.

The fight against smoking is personal. Having grown up in India surrounded by smokers, and losing family members to smoking, my mother taught me the dangers posed by tobacco usage. Her argument was effective since I have never really considered trying a cigarette. And I think their generation did a good job at discouraging cigarette use. When I ask my friends they are likely to express disgust at the idea of using cigarettes, and youth cigarette usage is at an all-time low. Unfortunately, this disgust doesn’t seem to transfer to e-cigarettes, which are seen as cool and hip.

Flavors are a big reason my peers start using e-cigarettes. In fact, 4 out of 5 kids who have used tobacco started with a flavored product. According to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, Juul and other e-cigarettes are addicting a new generation of kids and reversing decades of progress cutting youth tobacco use. The flavors lure them in, and the nicotine keeps them hooked.” I know many classmates and friends who vape. My neighbor’s son is still only in middle school, but he’s already become addicted to e-cigarettes. He started because he saw a chocolate flavored e-cigarette and thought it was fun to try. How bad can something that’s candy-flavored be? And I have a classmate who started vaping because his grandfather tried to quit using e-cigarettes. He tried his vapes. He still smokes cigarettes, and now, he’s addicted. Some of my friends talk about comparing peach and strawberry flavors and which is better. And every high school kid knows about that one bathroom where you can vape in secret. The fact of the matter is, flavored tobacco and exposure to it makes it far more likely for kids to get hooked. And Big Tobacco doesn’t care.

But the CA legislature can make a difference now by putting the lives of youth ahead of the profits of Big Tobacco. As a passionate anti-vaping and anti-tobacco activist, I am pushing the California lawmakers to prioritize youth health by supporting SB793, the bill to ban the sale of flavored tobacco.

 In May 2020, as a National Youth Ambassador representing California for The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, and an American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network Legislative Ambassador I testified in front of the California Senate Health Committee this May, along with CA Lt. Governor Eleni Kounalakis and Stanford professor Dr. Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, urging for a Yes vote.


Senate Bill 793, written by Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), makes it illegal to sell flavored tobacco or tobacco flavor enhancer products. This include tobacco products such as cigarettes including Menthol flavored, cigars, cigarillos, and chewing tobacco, as well as newer products such as e-cigarettes, vape juice, and vaping systems.

Thankfully, the bill was passed and signed by Governor Gavin Newsom after months of advocacy and hard work from young people and adults alike. I was extremely grateful to have participated in the signing process via Zoom. 

Governor Newson signing the legislation over Zoom.

 It’s not easy being a Youth Advocate for quitting tobacco. At the 2020 National Symposium for The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, https://www.tobaccofreekids.org/what-we-do/youth-programs#ambassadors I addressed over 100 youth activists nationwide, sharing details about the harassment and attacks I faced on social media for speaking up against vaping. However, I am not deterred and will continue to find ways to help reduce the spread of tobacco in the communities, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, that affects lungs, placing smokers and vapers at especially higher risk of complications

Aditya Indla is an emerging community leader with Breath California, a non-profit organization and he has spoken in front of Dublin, Hayward, and Pleasanton City councils in support of a flavored tobacco ban. He is working to improve the tobacco retail policies in Union City and Newark as the Co-founder of Project Aegle. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he raised over $10,000 to 3D print PPE for health care workers and was recognized as one of the U.N. Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth’s Leaders who Inspire you to Change the World.

RaajneeTEEN: A Chat with Deepa Mahesh

The 2020 presidential election is not a race. It is a battlefield. Scattered across its rugged landscape is an onslaught of tweets and hashtags, opinions hurled from every edge of the American demography. From our broken healthcare system to our toxic immigration legislation, it is clear that America has everything to gain – and much to lose. 

2020 Presidential Candidate Sen. Kamala Devi Harris, knows what is at stake. Since her emergence in mainstream American politics during the controversial Brett Kavanaugh questioning, Harris has captured public interest with her visceral speeches.. As a South Asian woman, she is a pioneer in political territory that has long been foreign to Indian-Americans. To discuss her representation of our community, we spoke with fifteen-year old Deepa Mahesh, a member of Kamala Harris’s South Asians For The People initiative. 

“My group is all about uniting people in this community who want to fight for Kamala”, explains Deepa. “Unity gives us a lot more power, and makes our stances a lot more clear and more well-known in this sphere of politics… we’re fighting for her so she can fight for us.” 

Deepa’s role in this initiative includes maintaining a consistent social media presence, spreading the news among students, and communicating with voters and supporters. As a young person in this unique political climate, she is molded by the flame of America’s polarizing past . 

“I was first drawn to politics in seventh or eighth grade, when the 2016 elections were drawing to a close. And from then on, politics became really intriguing. It affected everything around me, from people I’ve seen… to people in Washington..and then this 2020 election started. I looked at the candidates, and I was instantly attracted to Kamala … As a South Asian, I was..happy to see someone like me … She is an amazing speaker. She’s the kind of person to command an audience and she has experiences that I don’t think..that other candidates can toss into the ring…I really share her social views and her beliefs, and I was just..drawn to her.” 

Unfortunately, the same heated social climate that drew Deepa into politics drove other teenagers her age further into indifference and apathy. Social media and the other casualties of an internet age serve as prime distractions from pressing societal issues. Deepa offers advice for other alienated or indifferent students, “ teenagers should know that just because we don’t see people exactly like ourselves in politics, doesn’t mean that we are invalid. Don’t let that be a roadblock in your path…if you have a stance, always remember to fight for it and act on it. It’s one of the greatest things in our country that we are allowed to do..”

On the surface, Deepa Mahesh is just your average San Jose teenager. “I really enjoy playing video games online in my spare time,” she laughs. “I know it’s not the most productive hobby.” But her voice exudes a sense of social awareness, and her commitment towards the Kamala Harris campaign is reflective of the immense potential of the South Asian youth community. 

Politics, in a sense, is the larger-than-life, funhouse reflection of another video game, from its unspoken rules to its spiraling conflicts. And young people really do have the power to navigate these challenges – as long as we give them the chance to play. 

*Raajneeti is the Hindi word for politics. The title is a play on words, as this article is about teenagers’ contributions to American politics today.

Kanchan Naik is a rising junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California.

Edited by contributing editor, Meera Kymal.