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Joss or incense sticks have long been a part of Lunar New Year celebrations. But Thai’s health ministry is urging people to stop lighting these sticks and placing them near ritual food offerings during the Chinese New Year celebrations. The ministry warns that doing so and then consuming the food might cause cancer.
In a statement by the public health minister on Wednesday, the ministry warns that consuming food that has been exposed to incense ash could cause heavy metal poisoning and may lead to health issues. Thus far, there are no plans to ban the tradition.
While the Lunar New Year is not a holiday in Thailand, many ethnic Chinese citizens, who make up 15% of the country’s population, are taking off to spend time with their families. Joss sticks are often used by Buddhists as well to serve as an aid in prayer.
However, a ministry study has found that smoke from incense sticks contains carcinogens, like benzene and butadiene.
Some ethnic Chinese citizens say that the tradition of lighting joss sticks may disappear in the near future. The younger generation is less tied to the tradition than their parents and grandparents.
The health ministry is urging people to put out their joss sticks after using them. Doing so will reduce the risk of health issues and help prevent fires.
The Lunar New Year begins on Thursday, but celebrations are already underway in many parts of Asia. Thailand is preparing for an influx of tourists during this time with an expected 60,000 visitors from China. Thailand is a hotspot for Chinese tourists, who come to visit the country’s temples and other tourist attractions.