Rep. Cicilline and 46 Members of Congress Ask President Obama to Ban Child Labor in US Tobacco

October 18, 2016

The President

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

As you approach the final months of your term in office, we would first like to commend you on the Strides your administration has made in combatting the dangers that tobacco and nicotine products pose to children. With those accomplishments in mind, we ask that you take immediate action to amend existing rules which allow children under the age of 18 to do dangerous work on tobacco farms. The hazards to children associated with this type of labor make closing this loophole essential.

Current U.S. law allows children as young as 12, or even younger, to work as hired laborers in agriculture, and there is no special provision in law or regulation which accounts for the unique risks to children who work in tobacco fields. According to detailed reports published by Human Rights Watch in 2014 and 2015, children allowed to work on tobacco farms often work excruciatingly long hours in harsh conditions, and often without protective gear. They routinely handle tobacco plants containing nicotine, and many of these children experience symptoms such as nausea, Vomiting, and dizziness- which are consistent with acute nicotine poisoning, an occupational illness that occurs when workers absorb nicotine through their skin. The long-term impacts on children are unknown, but research on Smoking suggests nicotine exposure during childhood and adolescence may have lasting consequences on brain development.

Because of this, it is critical that the Department of Labor issue a new rule specifically identifying labor in tobacco fields as hazardous and prohibiting children from working in direct contact with tobacco in any form. In order to avoid placing an undue burden on family farms, the rule need only apply to farms using hired laborers. Additionally, such a rule would be met with Support among many in the tobacco industry as many companies have already taken Steps to combat child labor practices. U.S. companies such as Altria Group and Reynolds American have Voluntarily prohibited their suppliers from employing children under the age of 16. These important steps made by industry should be met with strong action by the Department of Labor.

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