The prevalence of vaping among school students in Nueces County is becoming a growing concern. Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Judge Joe Benavides expressed his frustration during a recent Juvenile defense docket at the Nueces County Courts. Over 10 students from various school districts in Nueces County showed up with their parents to plead their cases, most of which were related to vape charges.
Vaping-related cases have become increasingly common, with more than 500 cases seen by Judge Benavides since the beginning of the school year, and he now averages 30 to 40 cases each week. School districts affected include Calallen, West Oso, Tuloso-Midway, and CCISD. Even the youngest offender, at only 12 years old, was charged.
"I had my own issues with learning but I continued to strive to be better, and that's what I try to relay to these kids," Benavides said. "The minor has to go through a tobacco awareness program, get fined, and do community service."
In response to the rising trend, Benavides is working with students from Veterans Memorial High School and TAMU-CC to present to middle school students the effects of vaping. He has partnered with experts from Well-Med and Safe Home Health to study the chemicals in vapes that damage the brain. Benavides is planning to host an Encouragement Life Skills program with community leaders.
"I see these young kids that don’t understand how harmful vaping is, so I try to reach out to these kids and give them opportunities to complete school and be successful," Benavides said. "I feel as if I’m a young kid looking at this kid in trouble. They have a lot of potential and they’re gonna be leaders of tomorrow."
Benavides' Encouraging Life Skills (ESL) program will use resources within the community to teach and engage today's youth. The program will take place on May 10 at 6 p.m. on the first floor of the Nueces County Courthouse. In addition, he is hosting a Dangers of Vaping Poster and Essay Contest for all CCISD first through fifth-grade students.
To participate in the contest, students must submit a one-page essay and poster on the dangers and effects of vaping at home, school, and in the community. The poster should include pictures and both the essay and poster should include a full name, address, school name, and phone number. First, second, and third place winners will receive prizes of $350, $250, and $150, respectively.
Contestants must submit by April 21, and the winner will be announced on May 10. The top three contestants chosen will be featured on TV. Minimal parental guidance is recommended. For information on where to submit, call 361-888-0201.
As a member of the American Heart Association Board of Directors, Benavides understands the harmful effects of vaping and is working hard to educate students on the importance of making the right decisions. With programs like the ESL and the Dangers of Vaping Poster and Essay Contest, he hopes to provide young students with the resources they need to be successful and lead the community in the future.