By Stephanie Para |Staff Writer|
Child labor on U.S. tobacco farms are having a negative effect on the working children, according to recent studies.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) conducted the study, named, “Tobacco’s Hidden Children: Hazardous Child Labor in U.S. Tobacco Farming,” in which they interviewed 141 child tobacco workers between the ages of seven and 17 from the top tobacco producing states, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia, according to CNN.
“I got heat exhaustion, vomiting, feel like my stomach was trying to come out of my body,” stated Jessica Rodriguez to CNN on her experience working on tobacco farms since she was 11.
The study found that 75 percent of the interviewed child laborers had symptoms that are consistent with Green Tobacco Sickness, including vomiting, nausea, headaches, dizziness, skin rashes, and burning eyes, as reported by CNN.
“Nicotine is an extremely toxic substance,” said CSUSB Psychology, Drugs and Behavior professor, Dr. Cynthia Crawford.
Especially on the bare skin, exposure to tobacco, that raw tobacco product is pretty dangerous, she added.
“The children absorb nicotine through their skin when they handle tobacco leaves in the process of cutting, weeding and harvesting plants,” stated in the Times.
HRW is not only concerned with tobacco induced sicknesses, but also exposure to harmful pesticides.
“The EPA has pretty strict guidelines,” added Dr. Robert Phelan, CSUSB environmental health professor.
Farmers can only spray in fields away from workers and there are waiting periods in between spraying to ensure safety, according to Phelan.
“Once they sprayed where we were working. We were cutting the flower and the spray was right next to us in the part of the field we had just finished working in. I couldn’t breathe,” said Jocelyn R., 17, to HRW, according to CNN.
Altria, one of the biggest cigarette producers, reported to CNN, that they do not employ its supplying farms, however, they have strict standards when maintaining their providers.
Their company does not view the report as critical of the tobacco industry, but rather that it is seeking cooperation to protect the safety of workers, especially minors, stated the Altria company spokesman, Jeff Caldwell to CNN.
Caldwell also adds that the company does not condone unlawful employment or exploitation of underage workers.
Children can work on any farm, outside school, and in dangerous conditions as long as they have a parent’s permission, according to the U.S. federal laws and regulations on farm labor.
Phelan feels that if these farms want to continue using children as workers, they must adjust their safety standards and supervise the number of hours these kids actually work.
“Kids have different metabolisms. Their bodies are smaller and so their exposure will be higher. The [safety] standards are based off eight hours, but they aren’t working eight hours, they are working long hours. When they work, they need a non exposure period, to eliminate the nicotine their bodies have been exposed to. Studies show that eight hours of work exposed to raw tobacco is the equivalent of smoking six cigarettes,” he added.
“It’s just not right [to have this] here in the United States,” said CSUSB public relations student, Mary Rose Carin, who also happens to be a smoker .
She feels that there has to be a way to help these kids break free from these hazardous conditions, in which she adds, many of these workers are too young to fully understand the situation they have been put into on these farms.
“We can’t let this be the only option for these families. We can’t say these families are living in poverty, therefore it’s OK,” said the co-author of the Human Rights Watch study, Margaret Wurth, in a quote to CNN.
“We have to make sure that there are better opportunities for these kids, and that they’re not forced to do this kind of work that makes them sick,” added Wurth.