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VA Lawmakers Defeat Bill to End Use of Child Labor on Tobacco Farms

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RICHMOND, Va. (WVIR) - A growing coalition is getting very vocal about the use of child workers on tobacco farms across Virginia. However, late Tuesday afternoon, a House committee defeated a bill to put limits on the practice.

A Human Rights Watch report released last year revealed disturbing details about child labor on tobacco farms. Cancer, poisoning or permanent neurological damage are just some of the risks some experts say children are more likely to suffer from working on tobacco 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.

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.

"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 of the bill feel the conclusions made in the Human Rights Watch 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."

Del. Marshall says he introduced the motion to defeat HB 1906 because he doesn't like where it was going.

"Only thing they made were accusations, didn't hear any facts," Marshall said. "The other issue that I worried about is it tobacco this year What's next year?"

A House committee tabled the bill, essentially defeating it for now.

Del. Lopez says that while tobacco companies are taking steps on their own to limit child labor, he still believes a legal protection should be in place and he will introduce this bill again next year.

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