OBJECTIVE To describe the health impact of harvesting tobacco and to suggest prevention and risk reduction strategies to avoid contracting green tobacco sickness (GTS).
DATA SOURCES A literature search of Medline, Toxline, and Toxline65 with the terms “green”, “tobacco”, and “sickness” covering the years 1966–1998.
STUDY SELECTION All studies, reviews, and commentaries that provided information on the health effects of harvesting green tobacco and disease prevention strategies.
DATA SYNTHESIS GTS occurs when tobacco workers hand-harvest, cut, or load tobacco plants, usually in the early morning or after a rainfall when tobacco plants are covered with moisture. GTS occurs through skin exposure to dissolved nicotine from tobacco leaves. Symptoms of GTS include weakness, headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, abdominal cramps, breathing difficulty, abnormal temperature, pallor, diarrhoea, chills, fluctuations in blood pressure or heart rate, and increased perspiration and salivation. The onset of the illness is three to 17 hours after exposure and the duration of illness is one to three days. Initial treatment includes cessation of work, change of clothing, showering, fluid intake, and rest. In more extreme cases, intravenous rehydration, anti-emetics, and dimenhydrinate are administered. Protective, water-resistant clothing; chemical-resistant gloves, boots, and socks; working in dry conditions; and dimenhydrinate can reduce the likelihood of contracting GTS.
CONCLUSIONS It is important to provide education to tobacco workers and employers about GTS. An international public awareness campaign about GTS timed to coincide with the tobacco harvest, along with enforced worker safety regulations, should be undertaken to protect the health of individuals working in tobacco production.
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