Tag Archives: child labour

Virginia GOP kills bill to stop child labour in tobacco fields

child labour

Disgusting, just disgusting. All I can express is rage over this one. I try not to get partisan on the Lounge, but I can’t ignore which party is behind this.

Members of the Virginia Republican Party today killed a bill that would have put an end to child labour in tobacco fields. This is an issue that has been featured by both NPR and the Daily Show. Believe it or not, there are migrant  kids as young a 12 years old working in tobacco fields in the South, sometimes for 12+ hours a day, and getting sick from constant exposure to the nicotine coming off the plants.

A bill in Virginia would have stopped the practise of underaged workers working directly with tobacco plants, but Republicans on a House committee effectively killed the bill by tabling it. They wouldn’t even allow a vote on it.

From an NBC News story:

A growing coalition is getting very vocal about the use of child workers on tobacco farms across Virginia. Virginia House Bill 1906 would have made it illegal for minors to work directly with tobacco plants or their dried leaves. The bill would have made an exception for children working, as part of a tradition, on family farms.

“One of the refrains we hear from kids who do this kind of work is, when they get the tobacco sickness, they say, ‘I felt like I was going to die,'” said Reid Maki, Director of Social Responsibility and Fair Labor Standards Coordinator, Child Labor Coalition for National Consumers League.

“The overwhelming majority of children interviewed reported experiencing symptoms consistent with acute nicotine poisoning,” said 49th District Delegate Alfonso Lopez (D).

Some of the opponents (aka Republicans) of the bill feel the conclusions made in the Human Rights Watch (see below) report are unfair to make at this point.

“My grandmother raised tobacco,” said 14th District Del. Daniel Marshall III (R). “I grew up in a tobacco family…My whole life I had been exposed to tobacco.”

Some of the opponents of the bill feel the conclusions made in the Human Rights Watch report are unfair to make at this point.

“My grandmother raised tobacco,” said 14th District Del. Daniel Marshall III (R). “I grew up in a tobacco family…My whole life I had been exposed to tobacco.”

Del. Marshall says he introduced the motion to defeat HB 1906 because he doesn’t like where it was going.

“Only thing they made were accusations, didn’t hear any facts,” Marshall said. “The other issue that I worried about is it tobacco this year What’s next year?”

Rep. Marshall — you’re a butthead. A serious butthead.  Maybe all that exposure to nicotine as a kid is what turned you into such a serious butthead.

It’s amazing in this day and age that this is still going on. It blew me away when I found about it a year or two ago. From a Human Rights Watch video about the practise:

Child labor is common on tobacco farms in the United States, where children are exposed to nicotine, toxic pesticides, and other dangers. Child tobacco workers often get sick with vomiting, nausea, headaches, and dizziness while working, all symptoms consistent with acute nicotine poisoning. Many work 50 to 60 hours a week without overtime pay, often in extreme heat. They may be exposed to pesticides that are known neurotoxins. Many also use dangerous tools and machinery, lift heavy loads, and climb to perilous heights to hang tobacco for drying.

The largest tobacco companies in the world purchase tobacco grown in the US to make popular cigarette brands like Marlboro, Newport, Camel, Pall Mall and others. These companies can’t legally sell cigarettes to children, but they are profiting from child labor. US law also fails these children, by allowing them to work at much younger ages, for longer hours, and under more hazardous conditions than children working in all other sectors. Children as young as 12 can work legally on tobacco farms and at even younger ages on small farms.
We all know that the tobacco industry is a big part of the economy in Virginia, and I’m sure contributes a ton of money to state Legislators, but somehow I think the industry could survive a rule that kids between 12 and 17 can’t work in tobacco fields. I mean, seriously, this is a new low, even for Southern Republicans. C’mon man, this is about basic humanity.
Here’s a comment from the Crooks & Liars article:

My half brother and sister worked picking tobacco.

Where they grew up, it was either working restaurants, or ‘picking’. It sucked, it was hard work, they worked you to the bone. They hated the job, but it paid more than working restaurants.

It sucked. Kinda like the idea of enlisting because it’s ‘better than’, something…

‘They’ have you. ‘They’ have it all figured out…

Kids ‘picking’ got sick. Some had to quit because it got too bad. YUCK…

Here is the Human Rights Watch video:


NPR story: Kids are harvesting the tobacco for cigarettes and getting sick doing it

NPR photo — Eddie Ramirez, 15

Outstanding story from NPR today; really powerful stuff.

Listen to the NPR report here.

Kids, some as young as 12 years old, are helping to harvest tobacco crops through much of the South. NPR interviewed Eddie Ramirez, a Honduran kid who picks tobacco with his migrant family in the South:

“In the mornings, tobacco is wet because of the dew and, like, the rows are narrow and the tobacco is really big. You just feel like you’re suffocating or can’t breathe really well,” he says. “You just want to stop and not do it no more.”

Well, all that tobacco is absolutely leaking nicotine, and as I’ve talked about especially a lot lately, nicotine is actually poisonous, especially to kids. So, these young kids are absorbing nicotine through the hands and skin by working in the tobacco fields all day (Remember a story I posted about a woman ending up in the emergency room because she fell asleep on a bottle of liquid nicotine for her e-cigarette and got severe nicotine poisoning because it was absorbed into her system through skin contact?)


In the NPR article:

“We found that the overwhelming majority of kids we interviewed got sick while they were working in tobacco fields with nausea, headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness,” says Human Rights Watch researcher Margaret Wurth. “And many of the symptoms they reported are consistent with acute nicotine poisoning, which happens when workers absorb nicotine through their skin.”


A group called Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 100 children who work in tobacco fields, but has no idea how many kids are really doing this … and possibly getting sick from it. The group is calling for the end of using child labour in tobacco fields, and is calling on Big Tobacco to take a more active role in stopping it.

Of the 133 kids interviewed by HRW, more than 66 percent reported feeling sick with symptoms consistent with nicotine poisoning; 73 percent report getting sick in the fields with other symptoms.

Just awful story, and it’s being enabled by the Labor Department, which refused under political pressure (gosh, from where, I wonder? RJR and Philip Morris, no doubt)  to implement tougher work standards for employers hiring crews to work in tobacco fields.

Anyway, a great story that sheds a light on something that needed to be exposed, and needs to stop.