Saturday 20 October 2018

The European village where children (5) smoke cigarettes they get from their parents

Fernando (6) smokes a cigarette in the village of Vale de Salgueiro, in northern Portugal. Photo: AP
Fernando (6) smokes a cigarette in the village of Vale de Salgueiro, in northern Portugal. Photo: AP

Helena Alves

The Epiphany celebrations in the Portuguese village of Vale de Salgueiro feature a tradition that each year causes an outcry among outsiders: parents encourage children as young as five to smoke cigarettes.

Locals say the practice has been passed down for centuries as part of a celebration of life tied to the Christian Epiphany and the winter solstice - but nobody is sure what it symbolises, or exactly why parents buy the packets of cigarettes for their children and encourage them to take part.

The two-day celebrations include dancing around bonfires, a piper playing music and an elected "king" who distributes plentiful wine and snacks.

The legal age to buy tobacco in Portugal is 18, but nothing prohibits parents from giving children cigarettes, and Portuguese authorities don't intervene to stop the practice.

Guilhermina Mateus, a 35-year-old coffee shop owner, cites custom as the reason why she gives her daughter cigarettes.

"I can't explain why. I don't see any harm in that because they don't really smoke, they inhale and immediately exhale, of course," she said.

Irish Independent

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