Avaaz.org is petitioning the US government to stamp out the use of child labour on US tobacco farms.

The petition, which has just over half its projected 50,000 signatures, says exposing children to harmful levels of nicotine will cause lifelong harm.

The call comes in the wake of a report released by the Human Rights Watch (HRW). The 2014 ‘Tobacco’s Hidden Children‘ investigation found that children as young as 12 are exposed to hazardous farming chemicals and are slowly being poisoned by the plants they are working with.

The report further alleged that he conditions endured  by children working on tobacco farms in four states 9North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia) were inhumane.

Children were quoted as experiencing nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and headaches – all symptoms consistent with nicotine poisoning (aka green tobacco sickness).

On worker described how he was made to work unpaid overtime in excruciating heat: “You want to throw up. And you drink water because you’re so thirsty, but the water makes you feel worse.

“You throw up right there when you’re cutting (the tobacco plants), but you just kept cutting.”

Others talked complained of insufficient breaks and the lack of protective gear.

Under an archaic US law children as young as 12 are permitted to work an unlimited amount of time outside of school hours on a farm of any size. For small farms there is no minimum working age.

Tobacco giant Altria Group has already prohibited its suppliers from employing children under the age of 16. The tobacco giant – which includes the largest tobacco company in the US – Philip Morris USA – says it has always worked within US labour laws.

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