WASHINGTON (AP) — Two years after the Obama administration backed off a rule that would have banned children from dangerous agriculture jobs, public health advocates and lawmakers are trying anew to get kids off tobacco farms.
The new efforts were jumpstarted by a Human Rights Watch report in May that said nearly three-quarters of the children interviewed by the group reported vomiting, nausea and headaches while working on tobacco farms. Those symptoms are consistent with nicotine poisoning, often called Green Tobacco Sickness, which occurs when workers absorb nicotine through their skin while handling tobacco plants.
"I think that many members of Congress have been shocked that children are suffering nicotine poisoning from working in U.S. tobacco fields," said Jo Becker, Human Rights Watch's children's rights advocacy director. "In response, they are pushing tobacco companies to adopt stronger child labor policies, introducing legislation and urging the Department of Labor to take action."
The approach includes legislation to ban kids under 18 from working on such farms, pursuit of a narrower federal rule than the one that was scuttled and public pressure on tobacco companies from lawmakers and health groups.
There has been some movement within the industry. This month, the Tobacco Growers Association of North Carolina said it "does not condone the use of child labor" and said tobacco growers and farm labor contractors should not employ workers under 16 years old.
Philip Morris International, which limits the type of work children can do on tobacco farms, says it would like to see stronger U.S. regulations in this area.
And the Labor Department said in a statement that its Occupational Safety and Health Administration is working to determine best practices to reduce worker exposure to nicotine during tobacco harvests.
In 2011, the Labor Department proposed preventing some children from working in dangerous farm jobs, including cultivation, harvesting and curing of tobacco. The department tried to pre-empt a backlash from small farmers by excluding from the rule children who worked on their parents' farms.
Nevertheless, the proposal became a political punching bag for Republicans, who called it an impractical, heavy-handed regulation that ignored the reality of small farms.
In an election-year decision, the Labor Department withdrew the proposed rule in 2012. In doing so, officials appeared to close the door on any action even after the presidential election: "To be clear, this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration," the Labor Department said in withdrawing the rule in April 2012.
But the release of the Human Rights Watch report, based on interviews with more than 140 children working on tobacco farms in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, sparked new interest in the issue.
Last month, 35 House Democrats wrote to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, calling for a new rule focused solely on banning children from working in the cultivation or curing of tobacco. The department hasn't yet responded to the lawmakers' letter.
Reid Maki, coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition, a Washington-based advocacy group, called the prospect of action by the Obama administration a long shot, given the Labor Department's 2012 statement.
"When it comes to the health and safety of children, the administration should not worry about promises it made in the middle of an election, especially when that promise concerned a refusal to protect children from known safety hazards in the workplace," he said.
Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., who signed the letter to Perez, has sponsored a bill to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to ban children under 18 from jobs where they have direct contact with tobacco plants or leaves. There's no companion bill in the Senate, but Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Senate committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said in a statement that he's working with other lawmakers and the administration to find common ground.
In June, Harkin and 16 other Democratic senators urged several major tobacco companies to prevent children under 18 from working in direct contact with tobacco. Philip Morris International responded that it prevents children from working in hazardous conditions, including those that could involve physical contact with tobacco plants. The company does allow children to work with seedlings or in barns sorting dried tobacco leaves, but may prohibit those activities depending on specific circumstances.
Philip Morris International spokesman Corey Henry said in an email that the company would "welcome strengthening of the U.S. regulatory framework for child labor in agriculture in line with international standards and the standards we expect to be met on all farms where we source tobacco."
SAINT-JEAN-SUR-RICHELIEU, Quebec (AP) — A young convert to Islam who killed a Canadian soldier in a hit-and-run had been on the radar of federal investigators, who feared he had jihadist ambitions and had seized his passport, authorities said Tuesday.
The suspect was shot dead by police after a chase in the Quebec city of Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu. A second soldier suffered minor injuries in Monday's attack.
Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said the attack "clearly linked to terrorist ideology." Quebec Police spokesman Guy Lapointe said the act was deliberate and that one of the two soldiers was in uniform. Lapointe said there were no other suspects at this time.
An official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the case identified the suspect as Martin Couture-Rouleau, 25.
The suspect was known to authorities and recently had his passport seized, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson said. He was one of 90 suspected extremists in the country who intend to join fights abroad or who have returned from overseas. However, it was not known whether the suspect had any ties to Islamic militant groups.
"He was part of our investigative efforts to try and identify those people who might commit a criminal act travelling abroad for terrorist purposes," Paulson said.
There was no answer at Couture-Rouleau's single story white brick home in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, on Tuesday morning, and no sign of police.
Neighbor Daniel Fortin said he had known Couture-Rouleau, who lived with his father, since he was a child.
Fortin said over the past year or so, he grew out his beard and began wearing loose-fitting Muslim clothing but that he never felt threatened by him. Fortin said Couture-Roleau's father was worried as he became increasingly radicalized and "tried everything," to help him.
Another neighbor, who declined to be named, said she didn't know the family well but saw police visit the home on more than one occasion over the past few months.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the slain soldier, 53-year-old Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, was a 28-year veteran with "distinguished service."
"Our thoughts and prayers are with his family members, his friends and his colleagues," the prime minister said.
"This was a despicable act of violence that strikes against not just this soldier and his colleagues but frankly against our very values as a civilized democracy," Harper said in Parliament.
Lapointe said the other victim is in stable condition with minor injuries.
The suspect sat in his car in the parking lot outside a veterans' support center for at least two hours before the hit and run, Lapointe said. A police officer on patrol witnessed what happened and immediately gave chase. He was was pursued for about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) before he lost control of the car, which rolled over several times.
Lapointe said the man was brandishing a knife when he emerged from the vehicle and police opened fire.
The case is similar to one in London last year in which an al-Qaida-inspired extremist and another man ran over a soldier with a car before hacking the off-duty soldier to death.
Images of Michael Adebolajo, 29, holding a butcher knife and cleaver with bloodied hands in the moments after the May 2013 killing of Fusilier Lee Rigby shocked people around the world and sparked fears of Islamist terrorism in Britain.
The Islamic State group has urged supporters to carry out attacks against Western countries, including Canada, that are participating in the U.S.-led coalition fighting the militants who have taken over large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria. Eight Canadian fighter jets, including two spares, are set to depart for the region Tuesday.
Gillies contributed from Toronto. Sean Farrell in Montreal also contributed to this report.
ATLANTA (AP) — A coalition of prosecutors from across the country gathered for the first time in Atlanta to discuss ways to fight gun violence.
Prosecutors Against Gun Violence was announced last month and held its first meeting Tuesday in Atlanta.
The group is co-chaired by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. and Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer and includes 23 prosecutors from major jurisdictions throughout the nation.
At the meeting in Atlanta prosecutors discussed topics including domestic violence, gun trafficking, mental illness and shared strategies to fight gun violence.
Former astronaut Mark Kelly, whose wife, former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has become a face of the gun control movement since being shot through the head during a 2011 attack that killed six people, addressed the group in Atlanta.
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — An old political standby — the future of Medicare — is emerging as the go-to issue in Louisiana's bitter Senate race as the candidates woo seniors who typically wield strong influence in midterm elections.
The challenge for voters is to figure out which side, if either, is telling the whole truth about who would cut and who would protect the popular insurance program. Medicare serves more than 50 million people and accounts for about 15 percent of federal spending, with about 10,000 new beneficiaries added daily as baby boomers reach age 65. The issue is so powerful that it's cropping up in North Carolina and Iowa, too, amid a national battle for control of the Senate.
Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu got hundreds of seniors grumbling at a recent forum when she told them her top Republican rival, Rep. Bill Cassidy, wants to turn Medicare into a "voucher system" and has voted to raise the retirement age to make Americans wait longer for benefits.
"No wonder Bill Cassidy didn't come today, because he didn't want you to know this," said Landrieu, who finds herself in another tough re-election bid as she seeks a fourth term.
Landrieu has made the issue of entitlement programs for the elderly a centerpiece of her campaign, traveling Tuesday to three senior centers across south Louisiana to announce a new endorsement from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, a Washington-based advocacy group.
The Senate Democrats' campaign arm has aired an ad against Cassidy featuring three older white women — a crucial demographic for Landrieu in a state that President Barack Obama twice lost badly — bemoaning Cassidy's plan that "(requires) seniors to buy private insurance with fewer benefits and higher costs." Democrats have hit Iowa Republican Senate nominee Joni Ernst with similar ads.
Cassidy and his backers answer that it's Landrieu who cut Medicare when she voted in 2010 for Obama's signature health care overhaul, which reduced payments for private policies under the Medicare Advantage program.
Americans for Prosperity, the political action organization backed by the conservative billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, cites that Affordable Care Act vote in similar ads opposing Landrieu and her North Carolina colleague, Sen. Kay Hagan.
The three races are among the handful that will decide which party controls the Senate for the final two years of Obama's presidency. Republicans must net six more seats for a majority.
The back-and-forth reprises a major theme of the 2012 presidential election. Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney leveled the same attacks, with Romney prevailing among voters older than 55. The issue also helped Republicans in 2010, when the GOP used dissatisfaction and confusion over the new health care law to win a House majority.
While Republican Medicare attacks are based on the health care law, the Democratic attacks are based mostly on House Republicans' budget blueprint, the Paul "Ryan Budget," so-named for the Wisconsin congressman and budget chairman who was Romney's running mate.
The Affordable Care Act changed how Medicare pays doctors and hospitals and included reductions — the $700 billion in cuts the GOP cites — in Medicare Advantage, which allows seniors in certain markets to purchase coverage from private insurers.
Ryan's budgets, meanwhile, propose a long-term shift to a voucher system for seniors' health care, where beneficiaries would get taxpayer money and then choose among traditional Medicare and private policies sold on the open market — similar to the exchanges the health care law set up for working-age Americans. The House has stopped short of passing legislation that would actually implement the overhauls assumed in their budget plans, and the budget votes have been largely symbolic anyway since Republicans have the political cover of a Democratic Senate, which routinely kills legislation passed in the House.
Medicare's latest annual report, issued this summer, projects that the program's hospital trust fund won't be exhausted until 2030, at which time payroll taxes are projected to cover just 85 percent of Medicare's costs. Yet each side persists in attacking the other's proposals as untenable "cuts."
"The $700 billion that Obamacare cut from Medicare spends it on other programs," Cassidy said, referring to the law shifting some health care spending to premium subsidies for working-age policy holders. "The $700 billion in the Ryan budget puts it back into the trust fund."
Landrieu and Democrats argue that the new law covers more Americans and, thus, lowers health care costs across the board by saving on treating the uninsured.
Democrats also note Congressional Budget Office projections that premiums for traditional Medicare could nearly double under the Ryan proposal, leaving seniors to choose the more expensive public insurance or less expensive private plans with lower benefits and more out-of-pocket expenses.
Analyses from the insurance industry and independent groups note that under both parties' models there would be rural areas where private firms may not offer policies at all.
Landrieu's most aggressive criticism of Republican Medicare plans, meanwhile, ignores that the changes would not affect anyone who is old enough now to qualify for Medicare. That means none of those voters Landrieu stirred up at a senior center would be forced off traditional coverage under plans Cassidy has supported.
Nonetheless, Landrieu defends her attacks. "You can only judge what somebody's going to do based on what they've already done," she said.
GENEVA (AP) — Tens of thousands of doses of experimental Ebola vaccines could be available for "real-world" testing in West Africa as soon as January as long as they are deemed safe, a top World Health Organization official said Tuesday.
Dr. Marie Paule Kieny, an assistant director general for WHO, said clinical trials that are either underway or planned in Europe, Africa and the U.S. are expected to produce preliminary safety data on two vaccines by December.
If the vaccines are declared safe, she said they will be used in trials in West Africa beginning in January to test their effectiveness among tens of thousands — but not millions — of people.
"I'm not suggesting at this moment that there would be mass vaccination campaigns at population levels starting in 2015," she said, adding that none of the volunteers who take part in the trials could accidentally contract Ebola from the testing.
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has already killed over 4,500 people, mostly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, since it emerged 10 months ago. Experts have said the world could face 10,000 new cases of Ebola a week in two months if authorities don't take stronger steps to fight the deadly virus.
In other Ebola news Tuesday:
— Sierra Leone said the number of infected people in the country's western region is soaring, with more than 20 Ebola deaths a day. That region is on the opposite side of the country from where the first Ebola cases emerged.
— In the United States, the Homeland Security Department is requiring that anyone coming in from Sierra Leone, Guinea or Liberia must enter through one of the five U.S. airports screening passengers for Ebola: New York's Kennedy, Newark Liberty, Washington's Dulles, Chicago's O'Hare and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta.
And in Spain, doctors said tests showed that a Spanish nursing assistant infected with Ebola in Madrid was completely clear of the virus. Teresa Romero, 44, had battled for her life after she tested positive Oct. 6.
Safety isn't the only question before larger studies of the vaccines begin — the shots must also trigger an adequate immune-system response in the first volunteers tested.
One of the two vaccines that Kieny mentioned was developed by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and GlaxoSmithKline from a modified chimpanzee cold virus and an Ebola protein. It is in clinical trials now in the U.K. and in Mali and will be used in trials in Lausanne, Switzerland, by the start of February.
GlaxoSmithKline says the vaccine is being manufactured at a plant in Rome, which Glaxo acquired last year along with the Italian company that developed the Ebola vaccine, Okairos AG.
"We have other vaccine facilities around the world and we are seeing what we can do to ramp up production to commercial scale," said Mary Anne Rhyne, Glaxo's U.S. director of external communications.
The second front-runner, developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada and known as VSV-EBOV, has been sent to the U.S. Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Maryland for testing on healthy volunteers, with preliminary results about its safety expected by December. The next stage would be to test it more broadly, including among those directly handling Ebola cases in West Africa.
Canada has donated 800 vials of the experimental vaccine to WHO but the shipment was delayed by a Lufthansa pilots' strike. Those are now expected to arrive in Switzerland on Wednesday for testing coordinated by the U.N. health agency among volunteers at the University Hospital of Geneva, and volunteers in Hamburg, Germany, and in Gabon and Kenya, Kieny said.
"These data are absolutely crucial to allow decision-making on what dose level should go in the efficacy testing in Africa," Kieny said. "We expect, we hope, to have a go-ahead by the end of the month."
That would allow the vaccine to be shipped for use in Africa immediately afterward.
Kieny said decisions about "which strategy to use and how and where and who" regarding the vaccines will be made in the next few weeks. Then vaccines will be given to health workers and select segments of the general population "early in 2015, in January."
At a separate news conference, WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib promised a thorough public audit of the agency's early missteps — and those by countries and partner organizations — in responding to the Ebola crisis.
"There is certainly a wish and a will to have this review," she said. "We know many elements need to be explained in the future. ... WHO will do that, but in the future; now our focus is on the response."
The U.N.'s emergency committee on Ebola plans to meet later this week in Geneva to study the outbreak further and decide what more should be done.
The East African nation of Rwanda, meanwhile, was singling out travelers from the three West African nations for special treatment, as well as people from Spain and the U.S., where a very limited number of Ebola cases have emerged.
The Rwandan Ministry of Health said Tuesday all passengers from those five nations will have their temperatures taken upon arrival. If a passenger has a fever, they will be denied entry. If there is no fever, the visitors still must report their health condition daily to authorities.
The U.S. Embassy in Rwanda urged Americans who may have a fever or who have traveled to Ebola countries "to weigh carefully whether travel to Rwanda at this time is prudent."
No Ebola cases have emerged in Rwanda.
AP reporters Maria Cheng in London, Edmund Kagire in Kigali, Rwanda, Lauran Neergaard and Matthew Perrone in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.
PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — Oscar Pistorius was taken away in a police van with barred windows Tuesday to start serving a five-year prison sentence for killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
Delivering her sentence, Judge Thokozile Masipa cited the "gross negligence" the double-amputee Olympic runner showed when he shot Steenkamp multiple times through a toilet cubicle door in his home.
Pistorius, who cried and retched during his murder trial, was unemotional as he stood to hear his sentence. His prison term begins immediately and he was led by police down a flight of stairs to holding cells before leaving the courthouse in the armored vehicle.
The world-famous runner later arrived at the nearby Kgosi Mampuru II prison in the South African capital, a facility that has had problems with violence and overcrowding and where during the years of apartheid death row inmates were executed before capital punishment was outlawed with the advent of democracy. Despite the prison's reported problems, authorities have said Pistorius would be held away from the general prison population because of his disability and high profile — possibly in a hospital wing or a high-security section.
Pistorius could be released after 10 months to serve the remainder under house arrest, according to legal experts. Masipa last month convicted Pistorius of culpable homicide, or negligent killing, but acquitted him of murder after he testified he mistook Steenkamp for a nighttime intruder.
Steenkamp's parents were in court to hear the sentence and the dead model's mother, June, said justice had been done. A close friend of Steenkamp, Gina Myers, said: "I really don't think any of us will heal anytime soon ... there will always be questions."
Pistorius' uncle, Arnold Pistorius, appealed to reporters to give the family privacy after what he called "20 months of relentless public trial." He criticized prosecutors for pursuing a premeditated murder charge against Pistorius, and said "they decided to inflict as much collateral damage as they could." He said Pistorius' family accepted the sentence.
"Oscar will embrace this opportunity to pay back to society," Arnold Pistorius said.
Judge Masipa earlier described the sentencing as a balancing act between retribution and clemency.
"I am of the view that a non-custodial sentence would send a wrong message to the community," Masipa said, taking just over an hour to summarize parts of the case and explain why she reached her decision. "On the other hand, a long sentence would not be appropriate either as it would lack the element of mercy."
Masipa asked Pistorius to stand as she delivered the sentence, and he faced her with his hands clasped in front of him. Pistorius was then led away, stopping briefly to grip the hands of his uncle and other family members as he headed to prison.
Prosecutors said they are considering whether to appeal the sentence, where Pistorius, 27, could serve less than a year in jail for killing his 29-year-old girlfriend. They have 14 days to apply for permission to appeal.
Nathi Mncube, the prosecution spokesman, said his office was disappointed in the culpable homicide conviction and had not yet decided whether to appeal. He said that there was an "appetite" to appeal but prosecutors would review their options.
"We are satisfied with the fact that he will be serving some time in prison," Mncube said.
Masipa had a wide range of options available to her because South Africa does not have a minimum sentence for culpable homicide, which is comparable to manslaughter. Pistorius, a once-inspiring athlete, known as the Blade Runner because he competed on carbon-fiber blades, was the first amputee to run at the Olympics in 2012. He had faced up to 15 years in jail. He also could have received a completely suspended sentence or house arrest.
The sentence raised questions over if Pistorius, a multiple Paralympic champion, would ever return to the career that made him famous. The International Paralympic Committee said he would not be eligible to run during his five-year sentence, ruling him out of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympics.
Pistorius must serve one-sixth of his sentence in prison — 10 months — before he is eligible to be moved to house arrest, said Marius du Toit, a legal analyst and criminal defense lawyer.
"It's an appropriate sentence," du Toit said.
As Pistorius left in the police van, a crowd gathered around the vehicle, with some whistling, shouting and banging on the caged windows.
Imray reported from Stellenbosch, South Africa. AP writer Lynsey Chutel contributed to this report from Johannesburg.