CHILDREN as young as five have continued a tradition of smoking cigarettes during Epiphany celebrations in a Portuguese village.

The village of Vale de Salgueiro in the north of the country is known for its Festa dos Reis, which marks the arrival of the Magi to the newborn Jesus. It allows the practice each year, causing an outcry among outsiders.

Locals say the practice is centuries-old, but nobody is sure what it symbolises or why parents buy the packs of cigarettes for their children and encourage them to take part.

The legal age to purchase tobacco in Portugal is 18, but nothing prohibits parents from giving children cigarettes, and Portuguese authorities do not 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.

Mateus said: “I don’t see any harm in that because they don’t really smoke, they inhale and immediately exhale.”

According to a report from Portugal’s Directorate-General of Health (DGS), smoking was found to be the cause of death for around 29 people in the country a day.

The overwhelming number of Portuguese smokers (more than 90 per cent) start the habit before the age of 25, with eight in every ten smokers saying they first lit a cigarette because of peer pressure.