May. 14 2014
WASHINGTON, DC – A startling report issued today by Human Rights Watch details yet another way in which the tobacco industry exploits and harms children: the use of child labor on tobacco farms in the United States.
Based on interviews with 141 child tobacco workers ages 7 to 17, the report documents how these children are sickened by nicotine and toxic pesticides; work long hours in extreme heat without overtime pay, shade or sufficient breaks; use dangerous tools and machinery; and climb several stories without protection to hang tobacco in barns. Children reported vomiting, nausea, headaches and dizziness while working on tobacco farms, which are symptoms consistent with acute nicotine poisoning.
The report, “Tobacco’s Hidden Children: Hazardous Child Labor in U.S. Tobacco Farming,” documents conditions for children working on tobacco farms in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. These states account for 90 percent of the tobacco grown in the U.S. According to Human Rights Watch, the world’s largest tobacco companies buy tobacco grown on U.S. farms, but none have child labor policies that sufficiently protect children from hazardous work.
It is outrageous that in 2014, kids are still working on tobacco farms, putting their health and safety at risk. Tobacco manufacturers must be held accountable because even though they don’t own the tobacco farms, they contract directly with growers and have the ability to control who works in the fields. This report demonstrates that the tobacco industry cannot be trusted to police itself, and it is time for strong, well-enforced laws and regulations that prohibit the use of child labor on tobacco farms.
This report is yet another example of the tobacco industry’s disregard for the health of children. Tobacco companies have a long history of marketing to kids – called “replacement smokers” in industry documents – and 90 percent of adult smokers start at or before age 18. According to the latest Surgeon General’s report, 5.6 million U.S. children alive today will die prematurely from smoking-caused disease unless current trends are reversed.
Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States, killing 480,000 people and costing the nation at least $289 billion in health care bills and other economic losses each year.
The tobacco industry must not be allowed to get away with any practices that endanger our children, whether on tobacco farms or in the marketing of their deadly and addictive products.