Durbin And Cicilline: Tobacco Farms Are No Place For Kids

Senator Durbin and Representative Cicilline reintroduce legislation to protect children from the dangers of tobacco farming

WASHINGTON – On World Day Against Child Labor, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Representative David Cicilline (D-RI) reintroduced legislation to protect child laborers from the dangers of exposure to tobacco plants, which can include acute nicotine poisoning and other long-term health effects.

The U.S. currently has no specific restrictions to protect children from nicotine poisoning or other health risks associated with tobacco farming. The Children Don’t Belong on Tobacco Farms Act amends the Fair Labor Standards Act to prohibit children under the age of 18 from coming into direct contact with tobacco plants or dried tobacco leaves.

“Big Tobacco’s willingness to exploit children doesn’t stop at just marketing dangerous products to minors. Children as young as twelve are recruited to work on tobacco farms where they are exposed to serious health risks like nicotine poisoning and other long-term health effects. Stopping this labor practice is common sense, and I’m hopeful Congress can finally act to protect these kids before it’s too late,” Durbin said.

“This is really simple. Kids should not be working on tobacco farms. Exposure to tobacco plants is harmful for anyone, but it’s especially damaging to children,” said Cicilline. “I’m proud to be working with Senator Durbin to pass this important bill.”

 Joining Durbin and Cicilline as cosponsors of the bill are Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Jack Reed (D-RI), and Representatives Matt Cartwright (D-PA-08), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ-03), Jim McGovern (D-MA-02), Mark Pocan (D-WI-02), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA-40), and Adam Schiff (D-CA-28).

Although U.S. law prohibits children under the age of 18 from buying cigarettes, children as young as 12 are permitted to work in tobacco fields, where handling tobacco plants can lead to nicotine poisoning. Tobacco companies and growers’ associations in the U.S. recently adopted voluntary standards to limit child labor in tobacco work. This bill would codify this implicit agreement that a tobacco farm is no place for children to work.

A 2015 Human Rights Watch study based on interviews with thirty-three children working in North Carolina tobacco farms found that: 

  • Children working on tobacco farms worked up to 50-60 hours per week; 
  • Children experienced nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, dizziness, lightheadedness, headaches, and sleeplessness while working on tobacco farms;
  • Children worked in hot conditions with jobs ranging from harvesting tobacco plants to applying toxic pesticides;
  • Children are directly exposed to those pesticides from spraying fields. Many pesticides used in tobacco production are known neurotoxins. Long-term effects include cancer, neurological deficits, and reproductive health problems.