An Overview of the Bill to Ban Child Labor on Tobacco Farms

We have known for decades that tobacco companies have no qualms marketing their deadly products to minors, but Big Tobacco’s willingness to exploit children for profit doesn’t end there. Child tobacco workers – some as young as eleven or twelve – risk nicotine poisoning and long-term health consequences from handling tobacco plants. We must take immediate action to protect these children before it’s too late.
— U.S. Senator Dick Durbin
In 2017, there is no reason for children to be working on tobacco farms. We already know the dangers of exposure to tobacco and nicotine. It’s time we do something about it.
— U.S. Congressman David N. Cicilline

In 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act introduced the forty-hour work week, a national minimum wage, and prohibited most minors from working in "oppressive child labor." It was the first, and largest attempt by the United States government to establish a fair and humane American work force. The federal child labor provisions, authorized by this act were were enacted to ensure that "when young people work, the work is safe and does not jeopardize their health, well-being or educational opportunities."

However, Human Rights Watch has reported that some tobacco workers began working at age 11 or 12, for 50-60 hours per week. These children experienced nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, dizziness, lightheadedness, headaches, and sleeplessness while working on tobacco farms. They are also directly exposed to pesticides from spraying fields. Many pesticides used in tobacco production are known neurotoxins. Long-term effects include cancer, neurological deficits, and reproductive health problems.

In June of 2017, U.S. Congressman David N. Cicilline (D-RI) and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced The Children Don’t Belong on Tobacco Farms Act, to protect child workers from the dangers of exposure to tobacco plants. This legislation is supported by over 50 organizations, including Human Rights Watch, and amends 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.