Nicotine Poisoning Common Among Tobacco Pickers
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Migrant farmers who harvest tobacco are at risk for the headaches, dizziness and nausea that are symptomatic of nicotine poisoning, North Carolina researchers report.
According to their study findings, published in the July issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 24% of 182 migrant workers had symptoms of nicotine poisoning--also known as green tobacco sickness (GTS)--at some time during the tobacco harvest in North Carolina. For every 100 days of work, the farmers suffered from symptoms for nearly 2 days, the investigators found.
``Those who grow and pick tobacco often have the least control over their work environments--they tend to be small farmers and farm workers,'' Dr. Thomas A. Arcury from Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and the study's lead author, said in an interview. ``We need to find better ways to prevent this occupational illness. No one should have to get sick trying to make a living.''
GTS can occur when nicotine is absorbed through the skin and enters the bloodstream, where it travels to the brain and triggers different aspects of the nervous system, which result in headache and dizziness. Nicotine can also affect the gastrointestinal system, causing nausea and vomiting.
Nicotine is even more likely to pass through skin that is wet, a condition that occurs often because leaves may be wet from dew or rain. Indeed, tobacco harvesters who wore wet clothing for more than 25% of the time were nearly three times more likely to develop nicotine poisoning, according to the report.
Wearing protective clothing did not protect the mostly Latino workers, although those who used tobacco and who had harvested tobacco for more than 5 years were somewhat protected.
Arcury said the best way to reduce the risk of GTS is to stay dry.
``The water on plant leaves contains high levels of nicotine, (which) can penetrate clothing and expose even covered areas to the nicotine,'' he said. ``Workers should try to change into dry clothes as soon as the tobacco they are working in is dry.''