If you needed another reason to quit smoking, a study by Human Rights Watch provides it.
Last year, the organization interviewed 141 child tobacco workers, ages 7 to 17, who worked in the four states that produce most of the nation's tobacco — North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia — and found that three-quarters of them reported symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, headaches and dizziness while working on tobacco farms, all consistent with acute nicotine poisoning.
Many said they worked long hours without overtime pay, often in extreme heat without shade or sufficient breaks, and wore no, or inadequate, protective gear.
This demands a response on the federal level. If it is illegal to sell cigarettes to children because of the health issues related to nicotine and other pollutants, it ought to be illegal for them to be poisoned in the fields or barns.
It's natural to wonder if this is also a problem in Connecticut's tobacco fields; fortunately, it is not. George Krivda of the state Department of Agriculture said that Connecticut's type of tobacco farming, concern for worker safety and stricter work rules mitigate against the conditions found in the other states.
Federal law allows kids as young as 12 to work on farms with parental permission, and sets no limits on how many hours or days per week a child can work. In Connecticut, the minimum age allowed for farm work is 14, and the most a person under 16 can work on a farm is eight hours in a day and 48 hours in a week.
Mr. Krivda said that workers try not to touch the shade-grown tobacco leaves produced in the "Tobacco Valley," lest that reduce their value as they are made into cigar wrappers (leaves are picked one at a time by the stems). His conclusion is supported by a National Institute of Health study in 2005 that found that migrant workers in Connecticut who harvest shade tobacco "appear to have a low risk of occupational nicotine dermal absorption." That study said the shade tobacco plant also may have a lower level of nicotine than either burley or flue-cured tobacco used in cigarettes.
So while "working tobacco" is very hard work, as generations of area teenagers can attest, it apparently doesn't make you sick.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun