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The Contender
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Young people on tobacco farms

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 1/1/2014 Category: News
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,943 times Debate No: 43223
Debate Rounds (2)
Comments (2)
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Child labor should be illegal on tobacco for many reasons. Tobacco farms are dangerous and there are no many agriculture laws taking precautions to protect young people from getting injured or preventing fatal accidents. The laws vary state by state, and children as young as 6 could work on tobacco farms, as long as it does not interfere with education. Hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries happen annually because children are not old enough. This is just with the machinery. Working on tobacco farms has unavoidable health risks with nicotine absorption that causes diseases, even from the surrounding areas of the farm. Children have the same rights anyone else does and should be protected under low $4.25 hourly wages and dangerous conditions.


Thank you for beginning this debate.

Because the Pro side has already put forth an argument in favor of the position that “child labor should be illegal on tobacco [farms]”, I will offer a few arguments against that idea.

First, let’s begin by defining our terms. The word “child labor” has two distinct meanings – the first referring to “involving children in work that deprives them of their childhood, interferes with their ability to attend regular school, and that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful.” [1] That definition, which serves as the basis for most child labor law, is very value-laden and defines child labor as necessarily harmful. The second meaning is much less negative and is simply “any work performed by a child.” Whereas mowing the lawn or cleaning one’s room would not qualify as child labor in the first sense, in the second sense – child labor is any form of work performed by a child. For the purposes of this discussion, the scope is limited to child labor in the second definition strictly on tobacco farms in the United States (US only because the Pro side has already mentioned that laws vary state-by-state, which I assume is in reference to US states).

First, at many points in history, including even in the United States today, children regularly die from lack of basic necessities – or, for whatever reason, not having what they need to survive. The child may even be an older sibling, seeking ways to make sure his or her siblings survive as well. To stop a child from working to satisfy his or her basic needs on the basis that it should be illegal is, on its face, morally questionable. You have to ask yourself why a child would be working on a tobacco farm in the first place unless the child had absolutely no alternatives in getting what he or she needs to survive. The idea that by making child labor on tobacco farms illegal we’ll be saving lives is absurd, as without the money provided by working on the farm, those children would likely have no other alternative.

Second, especially in farming, much of the learning is done by working as soon as possible. For families working a tobacco farm, it is essential that able-bodied children are able to help whenever they are ready with the daily activities required to keep a farm profitable. Expecting a child to contribute to the welfare of a family that supports and protects him or her is not a moral problem as it is the sharing of responsibility – something that has been done for hundreds of years in the United States. By treating work on the farm as an educational opportunity rather than a physical obligation, family farming work would be adversely affected by laws banning child labor on tobacco farms.

Next, let’s critically evaluate the Pro side’s positions on this issue. First, the Pro side alleges that there are no agricultural laws preventing young people from getting injured or preventing fatal accidents. I will admit that is true – farmer lobbying groups recently pushed the Labor Department to drop potential legislation regulating the type of work that children could do on farms[2]. However, no law can completely prevent all injuries or accidents. By definition, an accident is something that is unintentional. Farms can take steps to make injuries less likely, but anyone who agrees to work on a farm should be aware of the risks involved with a hazardous work environment. That includes the risks associated with tobacco farming in particular. While farms that have not made efforts to minimize the risk of workers (children included) or provided the proper amount of training can be held accountable for negligence. Those who did make efforts acted in good faith, without the need for a law telling them to do so or a law banning children from tobacco farms. It is in the best interest of the farm ownership to make injuries less likely, regardless of whether a law is in place, as it reduces their liability and the risk of down-time. I don’t find the argument that there are currently no laws in place convincing.

Also, I would like to see statistics indicating the number of deaths and injuries to children that result from tobacco farming in the US. None are cited by the Pro side.

I anticipate hearing Pro’s rebuttal to my comments.

[1] =
[2] =

Debate Round No. 1


My apologies for being rather vague in the title and description of this argument.
First of all, I would have to disagree with the comment in your first point. "The idea that by making child labor on tobacco farms illegal we"ll be saving lives is absurd, as without the money provided by working on the farm, those children would likely have no other alternative." I strongly disagree with this point in the fact that it is morally wrong that because a pay check is more important than health. Families receive benefits and food stamps given by the government. Your point of morals does not justify the low hourly wages, of $4.25, that children are receiving. Writing in the current American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Sara A. Quandt, PhD., said that 41 percent of tobacco farm workers reported having green tobacco sickness at least once during the summer. According to, 6% ever received medical help. This sickness ordinarily include nausea, vomiting, and dizziness. Other frequently encountered symptoms include abdominal cramps, headache, breathing difficulty, pallor, increased sweating and salivation, chills and fluctuations in blood pressure or heart rate. Most workers attempt to treat themselves. "Only 9 percent sought medical treatment," she said, "and 7 percent lost work time." Many farm workers believe they will be fired and lose their income if they get sick or work too slowly. Green tobacco sickness is an environmental justice issue, part of the growing concern that poor, minority and medically under served populations bear a disproportionate share of environmental and occupational health risks. On humid days the average field worker may be exposed to and absorb as much as 54 mg of dissolved nicotine " the equivalent to more than 32 average cigarettes. How can we make cigarettes illegal and illegal to smoke in public, but allow children to work on tobacco farms who are getting the same consequences as if they are being exposed and smoking nicotine? The answer is we cannot. It is morally wrong that as keeping it legal, we are encouraging low wages and health risks. You need to question the morality of hard work, long hours, and little pay, in addition with the terrible conditions working on a tobacco farm.
In addition, you also stated that the children have no alternative if it is what they need to do to survive. However, the range of working time is only 8-10 weeks. The agricultural hazardous occupations orders under the Fair Labor Standards Act that bar young workers from certain tasks have not been updated since they were promulgated in 1970. Times have changed and ways people can earn money has changed. Going back to your survival point, it is important to make notice that other dangerous jobs child labor could help would also make money. Every job available could make money. Prostitution, for example, could make money. Although it is not correlated with this topic of argumentation, the fact is making any type of job illegal would prevent families from receiving money. However, you are assuming that there are no other jobs available for children in order to survive. That is simply untrue, as tobacco being the only way to make money to survive, as it is a generalized statement of your opinion that there are not any other jobs children could perform in order to help out with the family than the tobacco farming. As I stated above, child labor on tobacco farms is immoral, and its disadvantages clearly out weigh the advantages.
Lastly, communities and countries experiencing poverty, high unemployment, and economic reliance on tobacco growing are vulnerable to predatory tobacco industry behavior. The health risks of tobacco farming are beyond the scope of any
study. Data on social disruption in tobacco farming have been obtained through newspaper stories, published and unpublished reports, scholarly literature, documentary films, and tobacco industry publications such as annual reports and websites. In all World Health Organization regions (Eastern Mediterranean, Africa, Europe, the Americas, South East Asia and Western Pacific) tobacco farming involves child labor and deforestation as well as tobacco industry behavior promoting disruption in social and environmental life in tobacco farming communities. Keeping child labor on tobacco farms would, thus, cause the opposite of which you stated. You said that it would not save lives and in a nut shell, would actually do worse to the child who is working to survive. However, as stated above, actually having child labor does not benefit the people, nor the environment. Its disadvantages are outweighed more than the advantages of child labor on tobacco farms.

Additional websites:


Thank you for your rebuttal comments.

In the first part of your argument, you ask how we can make cigarettes and smoking in public illegal, but allow children to work on tobacco farms receiving the same amount of harm. From the perspective of the United States, it’s not the public’s decision to make. We have to question the assumption that we should make something illegal because the pay is low and the working conditions are poor. Those two factors describe a large range of jobs, from coal mining to paint manufacturing and so on. The idea that we can justify making those kinds of jobs illegal on the basis of low pay and poor working conditions is absurd if we try to apply that to any kind of production work. Workers on these farms should understand the risks and consent to these risks before beginning employment; any employer who does not adequately explain the risks is doing some illegal from a case law perspective.

Having to make this farm work illegal from a legislative standpoint is at best redundant and at worst highly restrictive of the public’s interest, if the public is interested in consuming the products produced in working conditions that are poor and by workers who are paid low wages. I agree that tobacco sickness is a significant, moral issue – but, again, think critically about whether we want to set a precedent in the United States that we are going to prohibit activities or business practices because they are immoral, especially when there are significant disagreements about what is moral and what is not. Is it, in fact, even more immoral to tell these farm owners that they will no longer have the staff they need to adequate produce and sell products in the market and therefore they will no longer be able to operate. I stand by my point regarding children who work these farms because they have to, and how will they be impacted by this move to make their labor illegal. I acknowledge that families receive benefits and food stamps, but why would children be working on tobacco farms if they were receiving benefits and food stamps that met all of their needs? The answer is that government support is not enough in all cases; in some cases, children must actually work to support themselves and those who actually depend on them. While Pro’s argument seems to assume that children belong to families receiving government assistance, often the child is an orphan and has no family. In that case, the government provides very little support in terms of monetary help.

I grant you that there are other ways that children could make money. They could move into prostitution, they could steal, they could do other illegal things. The important point is, though, that there are few other legally sanctioned ways that children can realistically make money. Stealing, prostitution, and bad deeds are not more moral than tobacco farming because they have less of a health impact. In fact, they are less moral because they impact society broadly. Tobacco farming adds to the economy and adds to the welfare of society, much more so than other behaviors that are exploitative (such as prostitution) or outright harmful (stealing).

As a last point, keep in mind that I have restricted the argument to refer only to the United States. Data on social disruption from the World Health Organization (especially with regard to human rights abuses and deforestation) does not necessarily apply to US tobacco companies, which must conform to US case and statutory law with respect to labor and the environment.

To conclude, I have not found Pro’s argument that the disadvantages of child labor on tobacco farms outweigh the advantages. I think, before making that statement, you should ask a child who would have no other legitimate way of finding money to support himself or herself. You might ask tobacco farmers who depend on labor to support their communities. You might ask business owners generally whether the government should be involved in restricting the kind of work that people can do, which might have deep and unintended negative consequences, especially when legitimate tobacco farms already try to control the risks to their employees as a matter of legal necessity. Vote Con.
Debate Round No. 2
2 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Posted by BaconLover 3 years ago
I first would like to say, I quite enjoyed this debate. Balanced topic with good arguments on each side. But I must agree with paigeb. Her sound arguments and very reliable sources urged me to join her side. I myself am in debate, and I know her proposal would do well on the competitive debate stage. Props to you, paigeb.
Posted by SaintSimon 3 years ago
Good job picking a balanced motion...
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