Today is the Great American Smokeout, a day when smokers across the country stab out their last butt, or make a plan to do so. If you are a smoker, you’ve doubtless heard the myriad of reasons why you should quit: your heart, your lungs, your skin. But if you are one of the 18% of North Carolina women who are still lighting up on the regular, let me give you a new reason: the kids.
No, not your kids (although I’m sure they are darling). The kids I’m talking about are the young teenagers—hundreds of them in North Carolina alone—who are getting sick every day that they pick tobacco leaf in our fields. Our department of labor allows children as young as 12 to work in the fields, as long as it doesn’t interfere with their schoolwork.
And tobacco farmers don’t hesitate to put these kids to work—paying them low wages in a dangerous job that gets them sick. Through handling the tobacco, these kids pick up noxious amounts of nicotine, the ingredient that makes cigarettes so addictive. These children experience green tobacco sickness; nicotine floods their blood streams, making them dizzy and even throw up.
Farmworkers in North Carolina make an average of $11,000 a year, and child farmworkers make far less and are subjected to much more dangerous conditions as a result of their size and abilities. The vast majority of those who work on North Carolina’s farms are Latino, and even those who don’t report experiencing green tobacco sickness have to deal with ill effects from working and living so close to pesticides and other chemicals.
I quit smoking 8 years, 6 months, and 8 days ago, on May 10, 2006. Overnight I went from being a pack-a-day smoker to being a person who only dreams of lighting up. While I’ve enjoyed the better health and financial savings ($1,694 a year!), I now have a new reason to keep me smoke-free. Imagining seventh graders throwing up from picking my tobacco is just too much for me to handle.
Have you ever quit smoking? What kept you going when you hit that point where you would have mortgaged your home for just one puff? What advice do you have to the 954,000 North Carolina women who are still smoking? Use the hashtag #NCWomenSmokeout to join the conversation.