May 23, 2016

This is a new low, even for the GOP. Virginia's House Republicans voted to block restrictions on child labor, in the perilous tobacco industry.

It's true, these legislators have fought AGAINST laws protecting children from some very dangerous work. Last week, these Republicans in a House committee tabled (essentially defeating) a bill to put limits on the practice of protecting children from working in the tobacco farm industry.

A growing coalition is getting very vocal about the use of child workers on tobacco farms across Virginia. Virginia House Bill 1906 would have made it illegal for minors to work directly with tobacco plants or their dried leaves. The bill would have made an exception for children working, as part of a tradition, on family farms.

"One of the refrains we hear from kids who do this kind of work is, when they get the tobacco sickness, they say, 'I felt like I was going to die,'" said Reid Maki, Director of Social Responsibility and Fair Labor Standards Coordinator, Child Labor Coalition for National Consumers League.

"The overwhelming majority of children interviewed reported experiencing symptoms consistent with acute nicotine poisoning," said 49th District Delegate Alfonso Lopez (D).

Some of the opponents (aka Republicans) of the bill feel the conclusions made in the Human Rights Watch (see below) report are unfair to make at this point.

"My grandmother raised tobacco," said 14th District Del. Daniel Marshall III (R). "I grew up in a tobacco family...My whole life I had been exposed to tobacco."

Aw, that's adorable. Since Marshall's granny exposed him to tobacco growing up, it's no matter that we now have so much scientific evidence that proves the harmful effects of tobacco. Marshall is a typical anti-science Republican who has no use for those pesky facts when charming plantation-inspired memories can pose as legislative testimony.

HumanRightsWatch provides some background on this seldom publicized atrocity:

Child labor is common on tobacco farms in the United States, where children are exposed to nicotine, toxic pesticides, and other dangers. Child tobacco workers often get sick with vomiting, nausea, headaches, and dizziness while working, all symptoms consistent with acute nicotine poisoning. Many work 50 to 60 hours a week without overtime pay, often in extreme heat. They may be exposed to pesticides that are known neurotoxins. Many also use dangerous tools and machinery, lift heavy loads, and climb to perilous heights to hang tobacco for drying.

The largest tobacco companies in the world purchase tobacco grown in the US to make popular cigarette brands like Marlboro, Newport, Camel, Pall Mall and others. These companies can't legally sell cigarettes to children, but they are profiting from child labor. US law also fails these children, by allowing them to work at much younger ages, for longer hours, and under more hazardous conditions than children working in all other sectors. Children as young as 12 can work legally on tobacco farms and at even younger ages on small farms.

The insurance industry, not exactly known for its philanthropy, has divested themselves of tobacco investments.

The world's largest insurer is ditching tobacco assets worth $2 billion, saying it can't continue to invest in an industry that kills six million people per year.

AXA (AXAHY) said it would sell 224 million euros ($250 million) worth of stocks in tobacco companies immediately. The French insurer, the world's largest by non-banking assets, will also stop buying bonds issued by tobacco companies and gradually wind down its existing bond holdings worth 1.6 billion euros.

According to AXA, smoking poses the biggest threat to public health. The company said tobacco consumption is the major cause of long term non-infectious diseases including cancer, heart disease and chronic respiratory illnesses, which are together responsible for 68% of all deaths worldwide.

Is this really happening in the 21st Century? Apparently so!

If the Republicans have their way, sentimentality over the old South and the economic demands of big Tobacco will trump the health and safety of children. If you think children shouldn't be treated as indentured servants exposed to carcinogens, make sure that you vote against electing these inhuman miscreants to office. Although far from perfect, we know that Democrats aren't in favor of turning the labor law clocks back to the 19th Century!

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