FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
January 25, 2018
Contact: Jason Stanford, 571-336-2147, DelALopez@house.virginia.gov
House Republicans Oppose Ban on the use of Child Labor on Virginia Tobacco Farms
RICHMOND – A bill to ban the use of child labor on Virginia tobacco farms – HB 947 – was defeated on a party line vote today in a Commerce and Labor subcommittee of the House of Delegates. The sponsor, Delegate Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington), was disappointed by the subcommittee’s decision to go another year without adopting protections for children who are working on tobacco farms.
“Harvesting tobacco is dangerous work. It risks exposure to tobacco and pesticide poisoning, requires the use of sharp tools and extensive protective gear, and takes place in sweltering heat for long hours during the summer,” said Delegate Lopez. “These children - who are often immigrants from other countries and trying to help their families make ends meet – should be protected from the long-term impacts of such perilous work.”
Every Democrat on the subcommittee – Delegates Filler-Corn, Bagby, and Mullin – voted in favor of the bill.
Lopez provided the subcommittee with written testimony from Dr. Sara Quandt, a professor of epidemiology and prevention as well as family and community medicine at the Wake Forest School of Medicine.
“Is tobacco work any different for children than other agricultural work? The answer is, yes: tobacco production as a package of exposures and risks is particularly hazardous to children,” wrote Dr. Quandt. “I want to stress that children working in tobacco are particularly vulnerable. They are at risk physically for both short and long-term health effects, they receive little of the required safety training, and they are easily exploited. The Human Rights Watch report, like our own research in North Carolina, finds that these children work because of the economic pressure to help support their families and with hopes of furthering their education. These children working in agriculture deserve the legal protections afforded children in other industries.”
Human Rights Watch released a report in 2014 detailing the stories of children working on tobacco farms in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia. One child, Jacob S., a 14-year-old tobacco worker in Virginia, described his experience: “I get a little bit queasy, and I get lightheaded and dizzy. Sometimes I feel like I might pass out. It just feels like I want to fall over.”
“The most common response I receive when I bring up this bill to constituents is disbelief,” added Lopez. “People ask me all the time if we actually allow child to work on tobacco farms. It’s just commonsense that children should not be working in these conditions.”
Lopez is planning to introduce the bill again next year and will continue to do so until his legislation becomes law in the Commonwealth.