Agriculture, forestry and fishing Workplace exposures

Children working on U.S. tobacco farms exposed to poisons, report says

New York – Many children working on U.S. tobacco farms have inadequate protective gear and suffer from symptoms associated with acute nicotine poisoning, according to a report released May 14 by Human Rights Watch.

The international human rights organization’s report documents conditions for children on farms in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia – where 90 percent of U.S. tobacco is grown and is frequently harvested by hand. Of the 141 tobacco workers (7-17 years old) interviewed for the report, nearly 75 percent reported symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, headaches, breathing difficulties, and eye and mouth irritation. Some children said spray from pesticides being spread onto nearby fields drifted over them, and most said they did not receive safety and health training or protective gear.

Based on the report’s findings, Human Rights Watch recommends that no one younger than 18 be allowed to work a job in which they could come into direct contact with tobacco.

In 2011, the Department of Labor proposed a rule placing certain labor restrictions on children working on farms, including prohibiting farmworkers younger than 16 from the production and curing of tobacco. In response to criticism from the agricultural community, DOL withdrew the rule in 2012.