Children Don’t Belong on Tobacco Farms Act
The Children Don’t Belong on Tobacco Farms Act (S.974/H.R.1848) would end the practice of children working on tobacco farms, where nicotine absorbed through the skin while handling tobacco plants can lead to nicotine poisoning.
The bill amends the Fair Labor Standards Act to prohibit children under the age of 18 from coming into direct contact with tobacco plants or dried tobacco leaves. U.S. law prohibits children under the age of 18 from buying cigarettes, but allows children as young as 12 to work in tobacco fields.
Nicotine Poisoning and Other Risks
Human Rights Watch published a 2014 report based on interviews with 140 children who worked on U.S. tobacco farms in 2012 and 2013. The majority of children were working for hire. Key findings include:
• Child tobacco workers began working at age 11 or 12, working 50-60 hours per week.
• Children experienced nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, dizziness, lightheadedness, headaches, and sleeplessness while working on tobacco farms.
• Children worked in hot conditions with jobs ranging from harvesting tobacco plants to applying toxic pesticides.
• Many pesticides used in tobacco production are known neurotoxins. Long-term effects include cancer, neurological deficits, and reproductive health problems.
Protections for Child Workers
The U.S. has no specific restrictions to protect children from nicotine poisoning or other risks associated with tobacco farming. In most jobs outside agriculture, children are not allowed to work before age 15. The Federal Youth Employment Laws in Farm Jobs set standards for child workers in agriculture, but it does not specifically address tobacco farms.
Human Rights Watch estimates several hundred thousand kids work in agriculture in the United States each year but no one collects data on kids working in tobacco. The United States is the 4th leading tobacco producer behind China, Brazil, and India – and Brazil and India prohibit children under 18 from working in tobacco production.
Tobacco companies and growers’ associations in the U.S. recently adopted voluntary standards to limit child labor in tobacco work. This bill would codify this implicit agreement that a tobacco farm is no place for kids to work.
The bill is supported by over 50 state and national organizations, including the AFL-CIO; American Federation of Teachers; Child Labor Coalition; Farm Labor Organizing Committee; First Focus Campaign for Children; Human Rights Watch; NC Field; National Center for Farmworker Health; NAACP; National Consumers League; National Council for Latin American Advancement; National Council for Occupational Safety and Health; National Council of La Raza; Oxfam America; The Polaris Project; Student Action with Farmworkers; and United Mine Workers of America.
If child labor in US tobacco fields is outrageous to you, please contact your member of Congress and ask them to cosponsor HR 1848 or S.974 by clicking here.
[This description courtesy of CLC member Human Rights Watch]