The Children Of The Tobacco Fields

Tobacco and cigarettes have affected most people living in this day and age. You either smoke yourself, have friends that smoke, or are assailed by a puff of smoke while walking past someone exhaling on the side of the road. It is easy to know the smokings’ effects, as the health and second-hand smoke warnings are constantly pushed in our faces. However, while these warnings are constantly justified, they made it easier for us to forget about the other side of tobacco, which basically includes its production. In fact, the workers on tobacco farms, include a large number of children, who are exposed to health-threatening side effects from the exposure of the tobacco plant for hours on end.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations reported that China, Brazil, India, the United States, and Indonesia are considered as the five major tobacco producers in 2014. While most forms of agriculture production expose the workers to health risks such as pesticide exposure and musculoskeletal trauma (for example, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome); the farming of tobacco exposes the workers to far more serious risks such as acute nicotine poisoning. Nicotine poisoning occurs when nicotine is absorbed through the skin, and its symptoms include dizziness, vomiting, headache, muscle weakness and nausea.

As a result, tobacco farming presents serious health risks. This is most likely known by the individuals who are engaged in such work on a farm, which is similar to the workers of other dangerous jobs such as mining, and ice truck driving. But, what is the main problem now? It is basically the number of children that work on tobacco farms, as the risks associated with tobacco farming for adults are increased when it comes to children. For instance, acute nicotine poisoning can decrease a child’s well-being and enjoyment of life. The ECLT Foundation also stated that the health standards in the tobacco growing industry apply to adults and are not sufficient for youth and children, and the Human Rights Watch declared that teenagers are particularly vulnerable to the nicotine and pesticides that they are exposed to in this environment.

The US National Library of Medicine Public Report of 2005, states that children play a huge role in tobacco farming in the United States, and the World Health Organisation reported that the use of children in tobacco production is widespread in China, Brazil, Indonesia, India and the United States, as mentioned before. In these countries, children are involved at every step of the tobacco cultivation process. The Human Rights Watch interviewed a 16-year-old girl who had been working on a tobacco farm in North Carolina, United States since she was 12. She mentioned that when she worked in the tobacco fields she got nausea, headaches, a constant feeling of needing to vomit, and a sore stomach. The Human Rights Watch have also published that tobacco growing is commonplace for children in Indonesia, and reported that vomiting and nausea affect these children badly.

The ECLT Foundation found that 57% of children from two tobacco growing districts in Malawi were involved with tobacco growing; and of these, 36% were undertaking tobacco-related work for more than 14 hours a week. This is defined as child labour, and while the majority of tobacco-growing farms around the globe abide by child labour laws, this is definitely a sub-issue of the tobacco industry. The World Health Organisation reported that 53,000 children in Brazil work on tobacco farms, and 14% of these children are younger than 14.

The risks to these children working in the tobacco fields are plentiful, and the side effects of this work could have a dangerous impact on their lives. It can hinder these children from getting an education, particularly in countries where the tobacco is considered as a  family business, as it produces pressures on children to drop school and help their families. The hazardous and often oppressive environment can threaten the child’s primary rights – the right to health, to education and their ability to develop physically and socially.

This article has demonstrated the number of children, who are involved in the tobacco industry, and the unfortunate risks that they are exposed to in this environment. These risks are plentiful, and in this respect, it is surprising that it is still legal to expose children to such environment. It is clear that the legality of such actions can depend on the involvement of each country, and the cultural aspects that apply. However, surprisingly, the United States was the fourth-largest producer of tobacco in 2014. For such a well-developed country, you would think these laws would be established purely for the well-being and protection of children.

Letitia Smith