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New legislation would ban kids from working on tobacco farms

Senator Dick Durbin and U.S. Rep. David Ciccilline introduced legislation to protect children from working in tobacco fields just in time for the beginning tobacco growing season.

The Children Don’t Belong on Tobacco Farms Act would ban children under 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. “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.”

The legislation comes more than a year after a Fusion Investigates report found children as young as 8-years-old working alongside their parents in tobacco fields in North Carolina. Fusion’s story was followed by a May 2014 Human Rights Watch report that found child tobacco workers on U.S. farms are exposed to nicotine, pesticides, and extreme heat.

Parents of children working in tobacco fields told Fusion that their children work alongside them to supplement household incomes. Tobacco workers are typically paid an hourly minimum wage for trimming tobacco, and get paid a by-piece rate for harvesting.

Still, more needs to be done, advocacy groups insist. The new legislation amends The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 which established the minimum wage, the 40-hour work week, and prohibited most children from working in factories. But under the law, children under 12 are still allowed to work in agriculture, the most dangerous industry in the country.

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