More than 50,000 high school students chew betel nut, according to a study by the Department of Health.
The study, conducted from 2005 to last year, found a slight increase in betel nut use among high school students.
The ratio of betel nut chewers among junior high school students rose from 1.9 percent in 2005 to 2 percent last year, while for senior high school, it climbed from 3.4 percent to 3.8 percent over the same period.
Based on a total of 920,000 junior high students and 870,000 senior high students, that meant at least 18,000 junior high and 33,000 senior high students have the habit of chewing betel nut, the study said.
About 20 percent of students developed the habit before entering elementary school, the study said.
About 26 percent of the junior high students interviewed said they had their first taste of betel nut at the age of seven, while 29 percent of senior high students reported initiation to the substance at age 14 or 15.
Junior high students said parents and relatives introduced them to the substance, followed by peers, while the opposite was reported among senior high students.
In families that sell betel nuts for a living, parents do not stop their children from chewing the nuts, said Chen Mei-ju (陳美如), section chief of the Bureau of Health Promotion’s cancer control and prevention division.
Some parents even give betel nuts to their children as treats, the study found.
In regions where betel nut farming is extensive, such as Taitung, Chiayi, Hualien, Nantou and Pingtung counties, the increase in oral cancer and teenage betel nut chewing rates are higher than elsewhere in the nation, Chen said.
Betel nut use can lead to oral and esophageal cancer, the Department of Health said.