The precise number of children involved in the tobacco industry is unknown but is thought to be in the tens of millions. More than 152m children are engaged in labour, 71 per cent of them in agriculture, ranging from tobacco to the cotton and sugar cane sectors. ‘In countries where tobacco growing is important, child labour is a significant problem,’ says Benjamin Smith, senior specialist on child labour for the ILO.
You would be mistaken to think that this a problem confined to developing nations. HRW says that in the United States, the world’s fourth-largest tobacco producer, weak labour laws and regulations allow the hiring of children as young as 12 to work unlimited hours on farms of any size – including in tobacco fields – as long as they don’t miss school. As such, US children can be working 12-hour days in extreme heat, topping or harvesting tobacco plants.