Viewpoint

CLC and 57 Groups Urge Congress to Pass the “Children Don’t Belong in Tobacco Fields” Legislation Banning ChildLabor in US Tobacco

April 16, 2015
Dear Senator/Representative:
We write to you as organizations representing millions of Americans, including teachers, healthcare professionals, workers, farmworkers, and advocates concerned about children’s safety. We are alarmed at reports that children are risking acute nicotine poisoning and other health and safety hazards in US tobacco fields. We urge you to co-sponsor the Children Don’t Belong in Tobacco Fields Act, which would prohibit children under the age of 18 from employment that brings them into direct contact with tobacco. This legislation would not affect children working on their family’s farm.

Young tobacco worker, courtesy Human Rights Watch.

Young tobacco worker, courtesy Human Rights Watch.

A study released last year by Human Rights Watch found that child tobacco workers on US farms are exposed to nicotine, toxic pesticides, extreme heat, and other dangers. Nearly three-quarters of the child tobacco workers they interviewed had experienced symptoms including nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, headaches, dizziness, difficulty breathing, skin rashes, and irritation to their eyes and mouths. Many of these symptoms are consistent with acute nicotine poisoning, also known as Green Tobacco Sickness.
According to a new bulletin published by OSHA and NIOSH, children and adolescents who handle tobacco may be more sensitive to chemical exposures, more likely to suffer from green tobacco sickness, and may suffer more serious health effects than adults. Public health experts have found that nicotine exposure in adolescence can cause mood disorders and lasting deficits in cognition. In addition, several pesticides commonly used during tobacco farming are known neurotoxins, which can cause cancer, depression, neurologic deficits, and reproductive health problems.… Read the rest