Viewpoint

It’s Time for U.S. Tobacco Companies to Protect All Child Tobacco Workers with a Complete Ban on Children in Tobacco Fields

By Reid Maki, Child Labor Coalition

In 2014, under pressure from advocacy groups like the Child Labor Coalition and Human Rights Watch (HRW) concerned about hazardous child labor on tobacco farms, several tobacco companies operating in the U.S. announced they would only buy tobacco from growers who agree not to hire children under 16 to work in contact with tobacco plants.

Child rights and human rights groups had been pushing for a ban on all children – aged 17 and below – from harvesting tobacco because of health problems related to nicotine exposure. These negative health impacts were well-documented in Tobacco’s Hidden Children, a report from HRW published in May 2014.

“Children interviewed by Human Rights Watch in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia frequently described feeling seriously, acutely sick, while working in tobacco farming,” noted HRW.  Carla P., 16, who worked for hire on tobacco farms in Kentucky with her parents and her younger sister told Human Rights Watch she got sick while pulling the tops off tobacco plants: “I didn’t feel well, but I still kept working. I started throwing up. I was throwing up for like 10 minutes, just what I ate. I took a break for a few hours, and then I went back to work.’

In the U.S., many teens who work in tobacco fields wear plastic garbage bags to try to avoid nicotine poisoning. [Photo courtesy Human Rights Watch]

Another child worker interviewed by HRW, Emilio R., a 16-year-old seasonal worker in eastern North Carolina, said he had headaches that sometimes lasted up to two days while working in tobacco: “With the headaches, it was hard to do anything at all.… Read the rest