Understanding the Unspoken

My dad used to be an avid smoker, and now is a vaper. However, his journey wasn’t as glamorous as Big Tobacco companies like to portray in their magazines and tv commercials. This began as an interview but became a conversation of learning from complex circumstances.

Jada: How old were you when you started smoking?

Father: Either 13 or 14. I just remember it was the year I was transitioning into Junior HS.


Jada: What made you begin smoking at such a young age?

Father: I began smoking because of stress and major changes that I was beginning to endure in my life. My mom was so young when she had me and so when she finally went back to college, she was living in Queens while I was living with my grandparents in the city. By the time I was 5, I was already enrolled into Catholic school and my grandparents refused to send me into a household where my mom had started dating this musician who in the beginning was not the best role model for me. Although I went to Catholic school, I still lived in Harlem which is a lot different then what it is today. I remember sprinting to the bus stop with my grandmother because if we didn’t we would get robbed or even worse-- that was the environment I grew up in. So one day I found a pack of Grandpa Ulysses cigarettes and began smoking and began to make side cash selling them at school.  

Jada: After you started smoking did you want to quit?

Father: Of course, but I felt that I couldn’t. I grew up in an atmosphere where if people considered you a “punk” or even a “snitch” they would serve me a nice ass beating on the corner of school to humiliate you and show that you were weak. As a kid who was barely 5’7’’ and weighed 120 pounds in high school, I had the mentality that I would not let that happen to me so I continued smoking and being the “cool kid”. 

Jada: Did it ever escalate to more than just smoking?

Father: Unfortunately, yes. Like I said earlier, I lived by the seaport in Harlem. The access to things far greater than just cigarettes was overwhelming. Between seeing homeless people being cracked up on the sidewalk and then having people selling dime bags of cocaine and weed in the local convenience store, it was such easy access. You talk about people going to the local store and not getting ID to buy alcohol just imagine them not ID you to buy drugs. At my impressionable age, the wrong crowd, and the area I grew up in, it was the right recipe for disaster. 

Jada: So can you agree that smoking is a gateway into other things?

Father: Oh definitely. It starts the foot-in-door phenomenon. You think one day that you’ll be okay just smoking 2 cigarettes a day and be okay, but shortly you start building a tolerance and needing more. Then, you just begin going down this rabbit hole and wake up five years later trying to figure out how you ended up there. 

Jada: Do you mind talking about when your lungs collapsed?

Father: God, that was probably the scariest moment of my entire life if I am being completely honest. Most men my age would probably say being a father is, especially of two daughters, but on the contrary. That day I just remember taking you to the Jewish school in Douglaston and happy because it was my first day off in a while. I did the typical things took my morning shower, had my ‘cafe y salinas’, and then afterwards I would have my morning smoke. However, this time I felt something went terribly wrong just from one drag of the cigarette. It felt like this big block of weight had just been dropped on my chest and would not leave me alone. I called an ambulance while just sitting on the stoop thinking to myself, ‘I am too young to die! I have two kids and a family, I can’t die.’

Jada: Wow I had no idea

Father: Well how could you it’s not something you discuss with an almost six year old. 

Long Pause

Father (continuation):Anyways, after having been admitted to the hospital I remember being out of it for almost a month. Because my lungs were so weak, they couldn’t put the breathing tubes in; yet, when the day came and I saw the doctor begin making the incision I was scared. I would have to say that the pain is something I wouldn’t even wish upon my worst enemy; they basically shove this tube into the stem of your lung in order to create a breathing passage. A few days later after being discharged my lungs on the right side collapsed, however, the sensation was different. When your mom found me after she had gotten home from her residency, she had checked my breathing because she immediately was concerned by my irregular breathing. Once she whipped the stethoscope out she heard the flap of my lungs every time I took a breath. After having another set of two chest tubes in place, I knew I needed to change my lifestyle or else I would be looking at a premature death.

Jada: So why do you now vape and should you even be vaping?

Father: Once the doctor realized this addiction had been going on for over a decade, we devised a plan to wean me off and was able to stop smoking because of the E-Cigs. And yes, I do have permission from my Local 3 (Union) doctor that vaping is still the healthier alternative due to the extremity of how much I was smoking. To be honest, vaping is my stress reliever and most flavors I use are only 0-2 nics per 5 drops depending on the flavor of the juice. It’s just as a person who grew up smoking and then have something like this happen about a decade later; I was not only physiologically hooked, but psychologically. At least now I only inhale 50-100 bad things instead of 7,000 bad things. 

Jada: While you have daughters who have been exposed to education against vaping/smoking, what advice would you give to your son and his generation about vaping?

Father: I try to keep it real and tell him “daddy doesn’t smoke to be cool, he smokes because he can’t stop”. Junior is at the age where he’s impressionable, so I constantly reiterate the importance of being your own person and trying to stay away from all addictive substances that may seem “cool”. Although we live in one of the best school districts within the boroughs, there will always be the wrong crowd willing to bring you down. In essence, stay on the straight and narrow because the one time you falter or change your morales to fit in that’s when the long term battle begins.