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Children encouraged to smoke in Portuguese village: why this tradition is SO wrong


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Children as young as five are being encouraged to smoke in a Portuguese village, during the Epiphany festival.

The “King’s Feast” in Vila do Salgueiro, located in Mirandela, northern Portugal, finishes with a mass and includes traditions such as dancing around a bonfire and a group of bagpipers visiting houses to offer wine and lupins.

Everything seems acceptable and harmless - besides this quite horrendous practice of letting young children smoke as part of the tradition. A very distressing video provided by AP Archive shows parents giving their children cigarettes and helping them light them up. What is most worrying, besides the traumatic footage of seeing such young, innocent kids smoking, is how happy they look, and how care-free (and irresponsible) their parents are.

Those parents who were interviewed seemed totally relaxed about providing their own kids with cigarettes, claiming that this tradition has been going on for centuries. However, no one is really sure about what it symbolises. Jose Ribeirinha, who wrote a book about the village’s traditions, explained that it might have to do with “celebrating the rebirth of nature and human life”. It “might” but, again, there is no explanation for this practice.

Jose also mentioned how the remoteness of this village helps keeping the tradition alive, for its lack of exposure reflects on the lack of attention from the media. Sure, the fact that Vila do Salgueiro isn’t a tourist destination is probably why this act is still allowed. But again, that should not be used as an argument.

Guilhermina Mateus, a coffee shop owner who takes part in the feast, explains: “I don't see any harm in that, because they don't really smoke, they inhale and immediately exhale, of course".

She also referred the fact that they only smoke for two days, and do not ask for cigarettes during the year. My question is: why?

Who would think that in an apparently civilised country this would be permitted? Some traditions are just not suitable anymore, and arguing that it has always been like this simply isn’t a plausible justification. With many countries trying to prevent people from smoking, including Portugal, which in 2008 banned smoking in most enclosed spaces, this kind of practice makes absolutely no sense.

According to the law, the legal age to buy tobacco in Portugal is 18. However, children in this village are allowed and, even worse, are motivated by their own parents to smoke for two days, with no intervention from the police. The controversy that this practice generates for completely going against the law and the values of the country has caused a worldwide uproar and led to many international newspapers commenting.

Portugal is still relatively conservative, and religious parties are taken very seriously by most Portuguese people - but maybe it is time to question the relevance and, most importantly, the morality of some. With this kind of tradition being known of, Portugal has lost international recognition and respect. My hope is that the severe criticism this news has been receiving pressures the government to finally ban this absurd act, but my expectations are sincerely, and unfortunately, quite low.

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