Democrats want children off tobacco farms

Two Democratic lawmakers on Thursday introduced legislation that would limit the work children can perform on tobacco farms.

The bill from Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinSenators shed masks after CDC lifts mandate Manchin, Murkowski call for bipartisan Voting Rights Act reauthorization Schumer in bind over fight to overhaul elections MORE (D-Ill.) and Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) would amend 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.

“We have known for decades that tobacco companies have no qualms peddling their deadly product to young people, but Big Tobacco’s willingness to exploit children for profit doesn’t stop there,” Durbin said in a statement. “Child tobacco workers — some as young as eleven or twelve – risk nicotine poisoning and other health effects every day they go to work. That needs to change.”


U.S. law prohibits children under the age of 18 from buying cigarettes, but children as young as 12 are permitted to work in tobacco fields.

A Human Rights Watch report last year found that children working on tobacco farms in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia — where 90 percent of all U.S. tobacco is grown — had experienced symptoms consistent with acute nicotine poisoning, including vomiting, nausea, headaches and dizziness.

Acute nicotine poisoning, often called Green Tobacco Sickness, occurs when workers absorb nicotine through their skin while handling tobacco plants, particularly when plants are wet, Human Rights Watch said in a news release following its report.

Though the long-term effects are unknown, the group said some research suggests that nicotine exposure during adolescence might have consequences for brain development.

The release of the Democrats' bill, titled the Children Don’t Belong on Tobacco Farms Act, comes at the start of the tobacco farming season in the United States.

Cicilline introduce similar legislation in the last Congress, but it failed to make it out of committee.