The more research I do about smoking, the more I find how universally harmful it is, and the more the reasons keep stacking up for why everyone should quit! I have recently discovered that the harvesting of the tobacco (called green tobacco, when it first comes out of the fields) is poisoning the pickers, and in particular children, who are doing this job.
Tobacco is grown in more than 100 countries in the world, and it is estimated that globally there are around 33 million workers in this industry, many of whom are in the developing countries. The harvesting of this crop is very hazardous to the workers in more ways than one. Besides the normal occupational hazards relating to agricultural work, such as pesticide exposure, and joint and muscle problems, tobacco pickers have to face unique dangers such as acute nicotine poisoning, known as green tobacco sickness. (GTS). It is suffered by workers when they come into contact with the wet leaves of the plant and the nicotine is absorbed through their skin. The symptoms are severe headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fluctuations in blood pressure and heart rate, and muscle weakness, among others.
It is not just adults who are at risk of this disease, but also children and adolescents who work on the farms picking the tobacco. Tobacco is increasingly being produced on large plantations in the US, and the workers, a lot of whom are migrants and casuals, are falling prey to this poisoning. However since 2002 much of this work has now also migrated to developing nations, and in particular Malawi, which is the world’s fifth biggest producer of this crop. It is estimated that around 78 000 children, aged between 5 and 14, work on the Malawi tobacco estates, mostly without protective clothing, and are being affected by this sickness.
The symptoms of GTS are more severe in children than in adults, in part because of their physical size, and horrifyingly, research shows that children employed as tobacco pickers are suffering from health problems equivalent to smoking around 50 cigarettes each day! Experts believe that this could seriously affect their long-term development. All this, to earn the equivalent of around 11p for a daily wage.
Ironically, the use of tobacco products in the workers, such as smoking or chewing tobacco, appears to reduce the risk of this type of poisoning, as it helps the body to build up a tolerance to the nicotine. There are also safety precautions suggested, such as always wearing gloves and other protective clothing, and avoiding handling tobacco that is wet, instead waiting until it is dry before picking. Also workers are advised to change out of clothing saturated by tobacco moisture as soon as possible. These steps are recommended by the organisation British American Tobacco,
However, I am sure we can all agree that the best solution would be for tobacco not to be farmed at all, as the only use for it is to make cigarettes, and other smoking-related products, which kill millions of people round the world annually, not to mention this sickness that it is causing amongst the workers. Not only that but the farming of tobacco is currently using over 4 million hectares of land worldwide which could be used for the growing of food crops, much more essential in a world where so many people are starving. Knowing this I find that green tobacco makes me quite sick too!
I hope you found this blog informative and thought-provoking. Your votes and comments are much appreciated.
Picture courtesy of www.online.wsj.com