September 3, 2003 | By: Aimee D. Heald

Cutting and putting up tobacco is a labor-intensive chore in itself. Add in dehydration and nausea and workers face an even more intense challenge. With the wet weather Kentucky has been experiencing, a greater risk for Green Tobacco Sickness exists.

Green Tobacco Sickness is an illness caused by skin exposure to nicotine on tobacco leaves, especially wet leaves. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and may include nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, dizziness, breathing difficulty, weakness and sometimes fluctuations in blood pressure or heart rate.

“Anytime you’re working in wet tobacco, you’re at risk of getting GTS,” said Gary Palmer, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture Extension tobacco specialist. “A lot of tobacco stays wet past noon these days, so nicotine is going to be right there and as you handle the tobacco it will absorb right through your skin.”

Although the best protection against nicotine exposure is rain gear, Palmer said that’s not always the best idea on warm days, since raincoats can increase the chance of more serious problems such as heat stress or heat stroke.

So what can workers do to protect themselves, without further risking their health?

“Wearing protective raincoats is the best protection,” said Robert McKnight, faculty member of the Southeast Center for Agricultural Health and Injury Prevention at UK. “If you can’t wear these, it’s important to wear gloves, take frequent showers and avoid contact with wet clothing. Take frequent breaks. Make sure you don’t overheat and of course, drink plenty of fluids.”

McKnight said if clothing becomes wet, it is important to change clothes to maintain a protective barrier.

Prevention is the best treatment for GTS. If a worker does get GTS, the best advice is to wash the skin with cold water, rest and drink plenty of liquids to replenish fluids, and seek medical attention if symptoms warrant.


Writer: Aimee D. Heald 859-257-4736, ext. 267
Source: Gary Palmer 859-257-8667