Target: U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez
Goal: Ban children from working on tobacco farms
While United States law prohibits children from smoking cigarettes it does not prevent them from working in tobacco fields. Youth working in these fields are exposed to nicotine, toxic pesticides and other health risks. Many of these children are made sick by their exposure.
A recent report from Human Rights Watch documents children working in tobacco farms in the four states where 90% of the United States’ tobacco is grown: Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. Children working in these fields reported symptoms including vomiting, nausea, headaches and dizziness, all of which point to acute nicotine poisoning. What’s worse these children, some as young as seven years old, work longer hours than children in other industries and often do so without adequate shade or protective clothing.
Acute nicotine poisoning–also called Green Tobacco Sickness–occurs as workers handling tobacco plants absorb nicotine through their skin. The risk is made worse when the plants are wet. Long term consequences of acute nicotine poisoning are unknown but research suggests that prolonged exposure could lead to problems in brain development.
Children working on tobacco farms face other serious health and safety risks as well like contact with heavy machinery, lifting heavy loads and climbing multiple stories without harnesses to hang tobacco plants for drying. Nearby tractors have been known to spray pesticides that then drift over to the children making them dizzy, nauseous and sick. The pesticides used on tobacco are neurotoxins and therefore exposure can also negatively affect the nervous system.
Children that don’t even smoke shouldn’t be made to suffer for tobacco companies’ profits. Demand that the Department of Labor ban the use of child labor in tobacco farming.
Dear Secretary Perez,
I have recently become aware of the risks children face as workers on America’s tobacco farms. I understand that while U.S. law prevents children from smoking it does not protect these same children from the suffering they often endure laboring in tobacco fields. These kids are trying to help their struggling families, but they are also constantly absorbing nicotine and pesticides into their skin and risk developing terrible health conditions.
It is obvious that many of the illnesses these children report are the result of their work on tobacco farms. Child labor laws exist to protect youth from hazardous working conditions and to ensure they have the opportunity to get an education. To this end I must insist that the Department of Labor ban children from working in tobacco fields.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: Ellie Van Houtte via Wikimedia