Cartoon by Khalil Bendib
Children in Malawi who are forced to work as tobacco pickers are exposed to nicotine poisoning equivalent to smoking 50 cigarettes a day, an investigation has found.
Child labourers as young as five are suffering severe health problems from a daily skin absorption of up to 54 milligrams of dissolved nicotine, according to the international children’s organisation Plan.
Malawian tobacco is found in the blend of almost every cigarette smoked in the west. The low-grade, high-nicotine tobacco is often used as a filler by manufacturers, reflecting a long-term global shift in production.
Tobacco farms in America declined by 89% between 1954 and 2002. Three-quarters of production has migrated to developing countries, with Malawi the world’s fifth biggest producer. Seventy per cent of its export income comes from tobacco and the country is economically dependent on it.
Plan cites research showing that Malawi has the highest incidence of child labour in southern Africa, with 88.9% of five to 14-year-olds working in the agricultural sector. It is estimated that more than 78,000 children work on tobacco estates – some up to 12 hours a day, many for less than 1p an hour and without protective clothing.