An international human rights group released a report on Wednesday that reveals hundreds of children work in tobacco fields in the U.S. and that these children are at risk of the health hazards of nicotine exposure.
In a report which documented the working condition of children in four states in the U.S. where most of the tobacco are grown, the Human Rights Watch (HRW), an organization that advocates and conducts research on human rights, reported that many children who work in the tobacco fields in Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia show symptoms associated with acute nicotine poisoning such as vomiting, headaches, nausea and dizziness.
By interviewing 141 tobacco farm workers between 7 to 17 years old, HRW found that many of these youths were doing tasks such as harvesting, planting and weeding that put them in direct contact with the tobacco leaves, which causes them to absorb nicotine through their skin and expose them to high levels of the toxic chemical.
A study conducted by Robert McKnight, from the University of Kentucky in Lexington, found that tobacco field workers can absorb up to 54 milligrams of dissolved nicotine for each day of work, which is equivalent to smoking 50 cigarettes and this means that children who work in tobacco farms are likely exposed to nicotine just as if they smoke cigarettes and this could alter their brain and cause health problems.
"As the school year ends, children are heading into the tobacco fields, where they can't avoid being exposed to dangerous nicotine, without smoking a single cigarette," said report co-author Margaret Wurth from the HRW. "It's no surprise the children exposed to poisons in the tobacco fields are getting sick."
HRW also reported that pesticide exposure and injuries associated with agriculture work are also a concern for children working in tobacco fields. Many of the children who were interviewed also work up to 60 hours a week and earn less than the minimum wage.
The human rights group has already urged tobacco companies including Reynolds American Inc., Philip Morris International Inc. and Altria Group Inc. to boycott tobacco farms that do not have policies that protect workers below 18 years old.