African Children Picking Tobacco for U.S. Smokers

(GIN) | 9/2/2009, 11:30 a.m.

(GIN) €" Child laborers in Malawi as young as five are picking tobacco for U.S. smokers. An outcome of this backbreaking work has been nicotine poisoning equivalent to smoking 50 cigarettes a day, a new study has found

In the study by the U.S.-based child rights group Plan International, children reported common symptoms of green tobacco sickness including severe headaches, abdominal pain, muscle weakness, coughing and breathlessness.

''Sometimes it feels like you don't have enough breath, you don't have enough oxygen,'' one child said. ''You reach a point where you cannot breathe because of the pain in your chest.€

Tobacco, Malawi€s primary export crop, is found in the blend of almost every cigarette smoked in the West. More than 78,000 children work in tobacco fields - some up to 12 hours a day, without protective clothing, according to the study.

Plan International called on Malawi's government to enforce existing child labor and protection laws and to provide safer, fairer working conditions on plantations for those children forced to work. Multinational tobacco companies also must check their suppliers far more closely and follow their own corporate responsibility guidelines.