Wed, Jul 31, 2019 - Page 4 News List

Betel nut use starting early, poll finds

SLIPPERY SLOPE:Summer is the peak season for teens trying betel nuts or cigarettes for the first time and people who chew betel nuts are more likely to use illegal drugs

By Sherry Hsiao  /  Staff writer, with CNA

A majority, or 58.6 percent, of junior-high school students who have tried betel nuts did so for the first time before age 11, a survey released on Friday by the Health Promotion Administration (HPA) showed.

Among this group, 75.9 percent were given their first betel nut by parents, older family members, other students or friends, the HPA said, citing its 2018 Global Youth Tobacco Survey.

Curiosity was the No. 1 reason the students tried betel nuts, the HPA said.

Betel nuts are a Group 1 carcinogen according to the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, and chewing betel nuts is the main cause of oral cancer in Taiwan, Lin Li-ju (林莉茹), head of the HPA’s Cancer Prevention and Control Division, told a news conference in Taipei.

Childhood and adolescence are key to the development of healthy behavioral patterns, so when adolescents try betel nuts for the first time, “the seed of a health hazard has already been planted,” she said.

Summer is the peak season for adolescents trying betel nuts or cigarettes for the first time, she said.

DRUG USE

Research has shown that people who chew betel nuts are 15 times more likely to use illegal drugs than those who do not, HPA Director-General Wang Ying-wei (王英偉) said.

Therefore, it is crucial for people to refuse to even try betel nuts, he said.

On elementary school campuses, the HPA is teaching students how to reject peer pressure using social skills and self-affirmation, HPA said.

By strongly rejecting the use of betel nuts, tobacco and other addictive substances, parents can also reduce substance abuse among adolescents, he said.

Parents and vendors should abide by the regulations in the Protection of Children and Youths Welfare and Rights Act (兒童及少年福利與權益保障法), the HPA said.

Those who provide or sell alcohol, tobacco or betel nuts to minors could face a fine of NT$10,000 to NT$100,000, it said.

Oral cancer is the No. 5 cause of cancer-related deaths in Taiwan, with about 7,000 new cases and 3,000 deaths each year, HPA and Ministry of Health and Welfare data showed.

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