Phillip Morris Bans Children Under 16 From Working In Tobacco Fields, 2014 Says ‘Way To Catch Up’

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tobaccoIn general, I feel like what I know about the world and how it works is barely adequate, but I manage talk to other grown-ups without too much trouble. Other times I read something in the news and say, “Wait…didn’t we stop doing that about 100 years ago?” And that was how I felt this morning when I read that one of the largest tobacco companies has instituted a new ban preventing children under the age of 16 from working in their tobacco fields.

Good for you, big tobacco! What an admirable stand you are taking against child labor, here in the year 1938. Wait. It’s 2014? What the f**k?

This is no doubt due in part to the fact that I have never lived anywhere where agricultural labor was a big employer, and in part due to the fact that I am an idiot, but I had no idea that children are regularly found working on farms. And I’m not talking about helping out after school, I’m talking about working 40 hours a week. According to, an investigative report that they did earlier this year “…found children as young as eight working alongside their parents in tobacco fields in North Carolina.”

The big tobacco organization in question is Altria, which is the parent company of Phillip Morris, the largest tobacco company in the United States. As of 2015, Altria will no longer allow children under the age of sixteen to work in their fields, and will require parental consent for children between the ages of 16 and 18.

But hold the hell on, hasn’t child labor been illegal since the 30’s?! Well, yes. Kind of. The Fair Labor Standards Act has been in place since 1938, but there has always been an exception made for agricultural work. According to the Department of Labor’s webpage on youth and agricultural employment, children of any age may work at any time and at any job on a farm that is owned and operated by their parents. Regulations regarding the agricultural employment of children who are not working for their parents, e.g. the children working for Phillip Morris, varies by state. But when I went to the table that lists the laws by state, North Carolina was not there. Instead I found this at the bottom of the page, in the footnotes:

Agricultural employment is exempted from or is not listed among the covered sectors in the child labor laws of 17 states: Alabama, Delaware (non-hazardous employment), Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland (non-hazardous employment), Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska (covers only work in detasseling and beet fields), North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia (non-hazardous employment) and Wyoming.

Huh. So, working on a tobacco farm must be non-hazardous, right? Human Right Watch report from May of 2014, you had your hand up?

The 138-page report documents conditions for children working on tobacco farms in four states where 90 percent of US tobacco is grown: North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia. Children reported vomiting, nausea, headaches, and dizziness while working on tobacco farms, all symptoms consistent with acute nicotine poisoning. Many also said they worked long hours without overtime pay, often in extreme heat without shade or sufficient breaks, and wore no, or inadequate, protective gear.

Oh. Well, that’s not okay. Well, but it’s the parent’s fault, right? I mean, they’re the ones bringing their kids to work with them, after all. Yes, Fusion? You have something to add?

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


Asked if Altria had a provision that would provide better pay for workers to ensure that parents won’t have to rely on their children, [a spokesman for Altria ] said “We have no control over pay. The pay is between the growers and the labor they hire.”

Ok…so Altria has done the right thing, sort of. This is a great step towards protecting kids in the agricultural industry, but also a big step towards shoving their families further down the poverty line. It makes you want to grab big tobacco by it’s throat (being mindful of it’s tracheotomy) and say quietly, “That’s not helping as much as you think it is. No no shhhh…you’re not helping.”

(Photo: Twitter)