Environment & Health

12-Year-Olds Picking Tobacco

Harvesting tobacco exposes workers to as much nicotine as a pack a day of cigarettes. So why is it legal for kids as young as 12 to do this work?
RAYNER RAMIREZ/Fusion

You might think that the days were gone when elementary school kids would work long hours in the field picking crops, but that's the reality at farms across the country.

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The minimum age required for children to work in agriculture is 12 years old, but a Fusion investigation found kids as young as 8 and 10 years working in tobacco fields in North Carolina.

The presence of children in the agricultural sector isn't a secret. Roughly 400,000 children work in agriculture every summer in the United States, according to The Association of Farmworker Opportunity Program.

Studies show these children face a high risk of dropping out of school, getting injured, or experiencing other serious health issues like heat exhaustion or green tobacco poisoning. Efforts to be better regulate the child labor have been pushed back by the farm lobby.

In this video, investigative reporter Rayner Ramirez visits the fields, talks to the young workers and their parents, and confronts farm industry officials about the persistence of child labor in agriculture.

  • Child Labor on the Farm

    Read more from our award-winning series, “Child Labor on the Farm,” which uncovers how the farm lobby crushed regulations that could have saved the lives and health of many young workers.

The story was reported in partnership with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute, now known as Type Investigations.

About the reporter

Rayner Ramirez

Rayner Ramirez

Rayner Ramirez is a producer at CBS News.

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