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Tanning beds pose risk to minors, so regulate them

Post by Cheryl Tucker on Jan. 21, 2010 at 7:40 pm |
January 24, 2010 5:03 pm

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

You can spot them at any local mall, the young girls with the dark tans.

Chances are, they didn’t get that healthy-looking glow at the beach. More likely they’re regular customers at one of the tanning salons that are as nearly ubiquitous as coffee shops. So many young women seem to be addicted to tanning that there’s even a name for them: tanorexics.
They may look good now – and even that’s a matter of opinion – but they’ll pay for it with early-onset wrinkles and a significantly higher risk of cancer.

In fact, tanning beds are one reason why Washington state has the fifth-highest incidence of melanoma in the nation. But it is one of only 11 states that fail to even minimally regulate them.
Dermatologists report that they are seeing more cases of melanoma in younger and younger people, and they attribute most of that increase to indoor tanning. Indeed, the World Health Organization says that the risk of melanoma jumps by 75 percent in those who begin using tanning beds before age 30.

Incredibly, the state regulates and licenses hair salons and nail stylists, but not tanning salons. State Rep. Jeannie Darneille wants to change that. She’s introduced House Bill 2652, which would give the state Department of Health licensing and enforcement authority over the indoor tanning industry.

HB 2652 also would set safety and cleanliness standards, mandate injury reporting, require disclosure of health risks to customers, and ban advertising claims that tanning is safe or has health benefits. For instance, some in the industry claim that getting a “base tan” is desirable before going on vacation to help avoid sunburn and that tanning is a good way to get Vitamin D. But no amount of tanning is safe, and a better way to get Vitamin D is in a healthy diet or through supplements.

Probably the most controversial part of Darneille’s bill would ban tanning facilities from serving minors under 18 unless they have a doctor’s prescription. It would make more sense to parallel the rules on tattooing and piercings: Allow it for minors only with parental consent.

Other than the overly prescriptive age restriction, HB 2652 is worthy of legislators’ support. Given the estimated $491,000 startup costs, its chances are iffy in such a dismal budget climate. Still, it’s good to at least start talking about regulating the tanning industry, whose customers’ skin cancers are certain to contribute to the nation’s soaring health care costs in coming years.

The tanning industry has already geared up to fight any meaningful regulation, claiming that it would hurt business. Legislators should be more concerned about the alarming increase in skin cancer that can be traced directly to this industry. Tanning may contribute to the state’s bottom line, but it’s exacting too many pounds of flesh from young women.

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