Big Tobacco’s Child Workers: Young Laborers Endure Health Risks, Harsh Conditions on U.S. Farms


Published on Sep 8, 2014 – Even as tobacco companies are legally barred from selling cigarettes to children, they are reportedly profiting from child labor. Investigations by The New York Times and Human Rights Watch reveal hundreds, if not thousands, of children are working on tobacco farms in the United States. Many suffer from “green tobacco sickness,” or nicotine poisoning, which can cause vomiting, dizziness and irregular heart rates, among other symptoms. Children are especially vulnerable to toxic pesticides since their bodies are still developing. Workers can absorb as much nicotine as if they were actually smoking simply by handling wet tobacco leaves. We speak with Steven Greenhouse, longtime labor and workplace reporter for The New York Times, who went to North Carolina to meet the young laborers. “I was shocked that a lot of these kids said, ‘I work in the fields from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.,'” Greenhouse says of the 60-hour weekly schedules the young workers commonly endure, often in grueling heat. Under U.S. law, tobacco farms can hire workers as young as 12 years old for unlimited hours, as long as it doesn’t conflict with their school attendance.

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