Government warns of dangers of betel nut to young Taiwanese

Taipei, Taiwan's top health promotion agency warned Friday of the dangers of young Taiwanese getting into the habit of chewing betel nut, especially as many local youth get their first taste of the potentially hazardous nut at a young age.

Lin Liju chief of the Health Promotion Administration's Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, said about 1.34 percent of middle school students had chewed betel nut, citing a 2018 survey of 20,966 middle school students in Taiwan on their betel nut and tobacco use.

Of that group, more than 60 percent who had chewed betel first tried it when they were in elementary school and 80 percent said they obtained their first betel nut from family and friends, Lin said, also citing the survey's results.

Those findings are worrying given that childhood and adolescence are two crucial times when individuals develop healthy habits, Lin said, noting that children and teenagers start chewing betel nuts because of curiosity or peer pressure.

HPA DirectorGeneral Wang Yingwei said betel nut use at an early age may increase the risk of oral cancer or dependence and other adverse effects, citing a 2016 study.

To prevent the use of betel nut, Wang said, the administration launched a nationwide campaign in 2016 to educate students in elementary schools about the dangers of betel nut use and conveyed to them important public health messages.

But parents also have a significant role to play in the fight against betel nut and other addictive substance abuse, Wang said.

The HPA released the results of the 2018 survey for the first time Friday to raise awareness of the hazards of betel nut one day ahead of World Head and Neck Cancer Day.

Betel nut consumption is the key factor behind oral cancer in Taiwan, which was responsible for taking the lives of 3,000 people in 2018, making it the fifth leading cause of death among all cancers, Lin said.

The International Agency for Cancer Research, an intergovernmental agency under the World Health Organization, classified betel nut as a Group 1 carcinogen in 2012, meaning there is convincing evidence that the agent causes cancer, she said.

In Taiwan, the maximum penalty for offenses related to supplying or selling cigarettes, alcohol or betel nuts to people under the age of 18 is NT$100,000 (US$3,217).

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel