Human Rights Watch, an American-based non-governmental organization that promotes human rights across the world, found that completely legal child labor is not unheard of in American tobacco fields. Not a single American tobacco company has a policy against the use of child labor in their fields. They interviewed some of the young field hands to shine a light on some of the terrible things these children go through just to bring money home to support their families.
They found that children are often exposed to nicotine, pesticides, and fertilizers when working in the field- just like they would be if they were using the final product. The children reported nausea, vomiting, headaches, and dizziness- all symptoms of nicotine poisoning. Some teens also reported being indirectly sprayed with pesticides- oftentimes known neurotoxins- as planes flew over the crops. If the teens didn’t completely cover their skin while working in the harsh Southern sun, nicotine could be transferred on to their skin and could give them Green Tobacco Sickness. Similar to heat stroke, kids with Green Tobacco Sickness experienced difficulty sleeping, nausea, and headaches.
While long-term exposure of tobacco farming-related health risks are unknown, we do know what effect nicotine exposure on the underdeveloped teen brain can have. Teens exposed to nicotine before their brain finishes maturing are more likely to suffer from mental illness, attention problems, and have impaired impulse control.