The American Tobacco Industry’s Child Labor Problem

Children as young as 12 work America’s tobacco fields

It is not illegal for children as young as 12 to work as tobacco pickers in the United States, and in a new report from Human Rights Watch the advocacy organization explores how Americas children are putting their health at risk working the toxic crop:

The 138-page report, “Tobacco’s Hidden Children: Hazardous Child Labor in US Tobacco Farming,” documents conditions for children working on tobacco farms in four states where 90 percent of US tobacco is grown: North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia. Children reported vomiting, nausea, headaches, and dizziness while working on tobacco farms, all symptoms consistent with acute nicotine poisoning. Many also said they worked long hours without overtime pay, often in extreme heat without shade or sufficient breaks, and wore no, or inadequate, protective gear.

Farming is a dangerous business, replete with long hours, dangerous tools, and far more difficult conditions than your local McDonalds kitchen. But for children, the laws surrounding farm work are far more lax than other industries, says Human Rights Watch:

Under US labor law, children working in agriculture can work longer hours, at younger ages, and in more hazardous conditions than children in any other industry. Children as young as 12 can be hired for unlimited hours outside of school hours on a farm of any size with parental permission, and there is no minimum age for children to work on small farms.

Tobacco picking is particularly dangerous, because the crop itself produces toxins that can be absorbed through the skin.

In the video above, explores the reality of child workers in Americas tobacco industry, and the spiral of poverty that often drives children into the fields.

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.