Tobacco companies get rich on child labor

Children working Tobacco Fields – Source: Human Rights Watch

Children working Tobacco Fields – Source: Human Rights Watch

We talk so much about saving the future for the young from our selfish excesses.

We should therefore be stopping tobacco companies right now in Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee, from using child labor as young as 7 years old as field hands to pick poisonous tobacco leaves under hazardous working conditions.

We obviously need to pass a law to prohibit child labor from picking tobacco younger than eighteen and tobacco companies should refuse tobacco from suppliers who use child labor – and are paid less than the minimum wage – no exceptions.

We probably all recall when the great leaf tobacco companies were immortalized, raising their right hands, at a widely publicized congressional hearing in 1994, solemnly swearing that nicotine was not addictive.  (See the sworn corporate denials on line)  These tobacco corporations confessed four years later at another set of congressional hearings that tobacco was indeed addictive.

Michael Moore, the Mississippi Attorney General, who was the lead negotiator in the settlement with the tobacco companies said these tobacco companies were “the most corrupt and evil corporate animal that has ever been created in this country’s history.  They sell the drug, they make a drug, and they sell it knowing that it’s addictive.  They market it to our children, who they know will become addicts and they know that they will die from … tobacco related disease[s].”

My brother Charles and I watched my Dad die of lung cancer over several months because, when my Dad was young and in the military service in World War II, he received free cigs, and he smoked the rest of his life until his lungs wore a washy black stain from the tobacco and the rest of his lung tissue had transformed into a white gelatinous cancer mass.

These merchants of death should have been driven into the sea if this nation is truly serious about the war on addictive drugs.

If public policy against addiction is driven, even in part, by the number of deaths a drug causes, then tobacco wins this grim reaping contest hands down.

About 480,000 people die each year of tobacco related diseases, according to the CDC, and the deaths caused by the illicit use of other “drugs” is about 20,000 deaths a year.

According to a recent report, “Tobacco’s Hidden Children,” issued by the Human Rights Watch, the tobacco industry has children as young as 7 years old illegally working in tobacco fields, and working legally as young as 12 years old, when they couldn’t legally buy or smoke cigarettes.

These children work in extreme heat for as long as 12 hours a day, without breaks, water, any opportunity to clean, for pay below the minimum wage, and denied overtime pay when they work 50 to 60 hours a week.

If they don’t wrap themselves in plastic garbage bags to protect themselves, that they have to supply themselves, at their own expense, they are exposed to nicotine poisoning from contact with the tobacco leaves, and they get sick, vomit, suffer nausea, and dizziness.

We say we care about the children.

Then perhaps our Congress and our General Assembly could ban children from working in tobacco fields if they are younger than 18 years of age – no exceptions of any sort – and make sure all tobacco workers of any other age get paid at least the minimum wage.

Our elected representatives might take a break from their partisan food fights and do something for children that really matters.