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Sun May 18, 2014, 09:06 AM

Children are paying the price for adults’ tobacco/nicotine habit.

Children work on tobacco farms, handling the tobacco leaves -- and nicotine is readily absorbed through the skin.


A new report from Human Rights Watch paints a grim picture of child labor in the United States, something that most Americans probably believe was banned years ago. Children as young as 7 are working on tobacco farms in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, and many are said to suffer from the symptoms of acute nicotine poisoning.

There are no good estimates of how many youngsters work on tobacco farms, but Human Rights Watch said it interviewed 140 children, most of whom work alongside their parents, who are migrant farmworkers, during the summer and on weekends. Their stories, some recorded on video, highlight gaping flaws in how America regulates child labor on farms. Under federal laws and regulations, children can work on any farm, not just those owned by their families, outside school hours and in hazardous conditions if their parents let them. And there are no restrictions on how many hours they can work. By contrast, the government has far stricter rules for teenagers who work in retail stores and restaurants.

There is little doubt that the work is backbreaking and dangerous. Some of the children interviewed by Human Rights Watch say they often vomit, lose their appetites, have nausea and suffer from headaches — symptoms associated with nicotine poisoning. The children absorb nicotine through their skin when they handle tobacco leaves in the process of cutting, weeding and harvesting plants. One 13-year-old in North Carolina, Elena G., told Human Rights Watch: “I felt like I was going to faint. I would stop and just hold myself up with the tobacco plant.”

Most cigarette companies do not insist that the farms they buy tobacco from refrain from employing children. Worse still, in 2012 the Obama administration abandoned regulations that would have restricted children younger than 16 from “participating in the cultivation, harvesting and curing of tobacco” after Republican lawmakers opposed the proposal by falsely claiming that the rules would keep children from working on family farms.


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