Cicilline, Durbin Announce Introduction of Bill to Ban Child Labor on Tobacco Farms

Jun 14, 2021 Issues: Health Care

WASHINGTON – U.S. Congressman David N. Cicilline (RI-01) and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today announced the introduction of legislation to protect child workers from the dangers of exposure to tobacco plants, including nicotine poisoning. The Children Don’t Belong on Tobacco Farms Act amends the Fair Labor Standards Act to prohibit children under the age of 18 from working in tobacco fields and coming into direct contact with tobacco plants or dried tobacco leaves by deeming this type of work as oppressive child labor.

“Kids don’t belong on tobacco farms,” said Cicilline. “The dangers of exposure to tobacco and nicotine are well-documented. The risks are magnified for children. I’m proud to be introducing this important bill with Senator Durbin.”

“Big Tobacco has developed a business model that is focused mainly on addicting young children to their deadly products. And kids as young as 12 can be recruited to work on tobacco farms where they are exposed to serious health risks like nicotine poisoning and other long-term health effects. Putting a stop to 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.

Along with Durbin, U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Jack Reed (D-RI) are cosponsors of the Children Don’t Belong on Tobacco Farms Act.

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.