Epiphany celebrations in Portugal spark backlash as parents urge young children to smoke

The Epiphany celebrations in a town in Portugal have once again sparked backlash from the public after photos emerged of parents urging their children as young as 5 years old to smoke cigarettes.

(REUTERS / Christian Hartmann)A woman lights a cigarette in this illustration picture taken in Paris, October 8, 2014.

The people of Vale de Salgueiro have a centuries-old tradition during the annual Epiphany festival in which parents offer their children cigarettes and let the kids puff away at the tobacco products. Although only those 18 years old and above are allowed to buy tobacco in Portugal, youngsters are permitted to smoke cigarettes during the special occasion, The Sun detailed.

Each year, the Epiphany --- otherwise known as the King's Feast --- sparks backlash from outsiders because of this tradition that encourages children to smoke. Despite the regular criticism they receive, parents still continue practicing it. 

There is no law in Portugal which prohibits parents from giving cigarettes to their kids. Authorities in the country also do not do anything to stop the practice.

"I don't see any harm in that because they don't really smoke, they inhale and immediately exhale," said local coffee shop owner Guilhermina Mateus.

Jose Ribeirinha, who wrote a book on the Portuguese town's festivities, suggested that the smoking tradition may have something to do with honoring the rebirth of nature and human life. He explained that Vale de Salgueiro is located in a region that still practices pagan traditions and where villagers used to do extraordinary things during the winter solstice period, Fox News reported.

Aside from the smoking, the Epiphany celebrations in Portugal also include selecting a King who would be in charge of organizing all the village's celebrations. The streets of Vale de Salgueiro are filled with singing, dancing, and smoking during the annual festival.

The essence of the smoking tradition in Portugal is still unclear, and nobody knows what the practice symbolizes. The Epiphany commemorates the day that John the Baptist baptized Jesus Christ.