Tobacco farming is a good experience for kids, according to Kentucky state senator and tobacco farmer Paul Hornback (R).
“Children need to experience things,” he told The Daily Show’s Samantha Bee in a segment that aired Thursday on Comedy Central. “When I was a seven year old, I was wanting to work. I was wanting to do what the men were doing.”
Labor laws in the United States allow children ages 12 and over to work on tobacco farms, but an investigation by Fusion earlier this year found workers as young as 8 and 10 years old in the fields.
“It’s long days, it’s in the heat, it’s out there in sun, some days it may be 100 degrees,” Hornback said. “But that’s not bad, you’ve got lots of places to get shade, cool off, rest for a little while.”
Some disagree, namely “the killjoys at Human Rights Watch,” as The Daily Show dubbed them.
The international non-profit organization released a report last month detailing dangerous working conditions for children in tobacco fields. The report found that children worked long hours in grueling conditions, often without overtime pay or sufficient breaks.
There’s also a medical risk. Acute nicotine poisoning from handling tobacco can cause vomiting, nausea, dizziness, and headaches.
Bee asked Hornback what he thought about that.
“Acute nicotine poisoning is really not that big a problem,” he said. “It’s no different from having a 24-hour virus.”
Watch Fusion’s investigation of child labor in the tobacco fields here:
Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.