Amid a global campaign to stop the tobacco epidemic and efforts to discourage kids from smoking, parents in a remote village in Portugal encourage their children to smoke at least once a year to observe a tradition.
The Portuguese village of Vale de Salgueiro features the tradition on its annual Epiphany celebrations.
Parents Give Cigarettes To Children As Young As 5 Years Old
The two-day celebration, which starts on Friday and ends Saturday with a mass, features people dancing around bonfires, a piper that plays music, and an elected "king" who distributes wines and snacks. Parents in the village also encourage their children as young as 5 years old to smoke cigarettes during the Christmas festival, a practice frowned upon by outsiders.
Locals claim that the practice has been handed down for many generations over centuries but no one is sure what this symbolizes. The legal age to buy tobacco in Portugal is 18, but there seems to be nothing that prevents the parents from giving cigarettes to their kids. Authorities neither intervene.
Those who take part cites custom as the reason why they give their children cigarettes. Thirty-five-year-old Guilhermina Mateus said that she does not see any harm in giving cigarette to her child during the Epiphany celebrations. She said that the children do not really smoke and only do this during the celebration. They also inhale and exhale immediately.
"It's only on these days, today and tomorrow," Mateus said. "They never ask for cigarettes again."
About 90 percent of adult smokers started smoking when they were kids. Interestingly, the village does not have higher incidence of adult smoking compared with other villages in Portugal, said Jose Ribeirinha, who wrote a book on the festivities.
Ribeirinha said that the geographical location of the village means it likely held on to old traditions adhering to practices that date back to pagan times. Ribeirinha said that the village is in an area known as the "forgotten one".
Figures from the World Health Organization show that tobacco is responsible for over 7 million deaths per year. Of these, more than 6 million are the result of direct tobacco use while the rest is linked to exposure to second-hand smoke. WHO tagged the tobacco epidemic as one of the world's biggest public health threats causing illness, impoverishment, and death.
Portugal has also taken steps to curb rates of smoking. Its efforts include partial ban on smoking indoors.