Born in the Philippines, Yuan Uy moved to West Virginia right before entering high school. As an introvert, he struggled a bit to fit in, but he found a mentor in his health teacher, Mrs. Knapp. It was by her suggestion that he first discovered Raze, an organization that seeks to empower teens to speak out and educate their peers about the dangers of vaping and smoking. This was the beginning of a growing passion advocating for lung health. “I wanted to help teens my own age, my friends and peers, understand the health risks of tobacco. It also led me to work with the American Lung Association on other topics, like the harms of diesel school bus emissions,” he said.

Addressing the Tobacco Epidemic

Now a senior, Yuan has learned much over the past few years. With Raze, he has worked numerous events that encourage teens to ditch tobacco products and follow a healthier lifestyle by showing the chemicals that are in each device. This is important in a time when youth vaping has been named an epidemic by the FDA. Teen use of e-cigarettes increased 73% from 2016 to 2020, equating to 1.3 million more teens vaping. “Tobacco and e-cigarette companies target us at a very young age which is dangerous because our brains are still developing,” Yuan said. “And because of nicotine, tobacco products are highly addictive. I’ve seen this with my peers which is why I try to be available and make sure that my friends know I am here as an education source, but also as someone who cares and understands the struggle.”

Research supports these claims, with close to 95% of smokers trying their first cigarette before the age of 21. This is linked to the vaping epidemic because we also now know that youth who use e-cigarettes are four times more likely to try a cigarette and three times more likely to become addicted to nicotine. “We know that tobacco companies can get away with a lot and it is very difficult for legislators to help us,” he goes on. Despite that, he hopes they are able to stop flavored e-cigarette products from being produced, as 85% of current youth e-cigarette users use flavored e-cigarettes.

Clean School Buses Initiative

Yuan has also worked with the Lung Association on cleaning up emissions from transportation. Specifically, he has talked about the need to make the switch from diesel to electric school buses. “When I was young, I used to ride the bus and I remember lining up and thinking how bad the bus smelled, and even coughing. Lots of children have this experience and it is extremely detrimental to their development,” Yuan said.

Studies show exposure to air pollution is detrimental to children’s brain and lung functions. We also know that diesel engine exhaust is carcinogenic to humans and is associated with an increased risk for lung cancer. With over 480,000 school buses on the road nationwide, traveling 3.5 billion miles annually, the nation has the potential to eliminate enormous amounts of air pollution every year by switching to electric school buses. Policymakers need to invest in helping schools make the switch, which is why stories like Yuan’s are so important.

He shared first-hand experience with emissions coming from school buses with representatives from Senator Manchin’s office. “It is very beneficial for us to invest in green technology and clean power sources. Students are the future and now that we have the technology, we need to use it to protect them from toxic fumes,” he said.

It appears that some of what he and other clean air representatives have been saying may have struck a chord. In January, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice announced a plan for producing electric school buses in South Charleston, Kanawha County. It is an exciting step toward reducing emissions from school buses nationwide.

Next Steps

Though Yuan is not sure which of the 56 colleges he applied to he will attend, or what career path he will choose, he has no intention of giving up his passions. He plans to continue his work with the American Lung Association and to champion other organizations that encourage teens to quit tobacco and work toward a world with cleaner air. “I want to pursue a life where my voice is being heard on important subjects and where I can give a voice to unheard communities. No matter what my career path will be I will never stop trying to create a better world and help others.”

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