This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.
It’s a shame that state Rep. Jeannie Darneille’s bill to regulate and restrict the indoor tanning industry didn’t get very far in this year’s legislative session.
Her bill would have required that indoor tanning businesses be licensed and inspected as they are in most other states – and as other personal care businesses such as hair salons already are in Washington. Most importantly, it would have banned the use of indoor tanning beds by anyone under 18 without a doctor’s prescription.
That last provision was especially important, because experts say indoor tanning is the main reason doctors are seeing more advanced cases of potentially deadly melanoma in younger and younger victims – and mostly in women because they’re more likely to use tanning beds. Cancers that dermatologists once saw mostly in old men are now showing up in twentysomethings and even teenagers.
Using tanning beds before the age of 35 increases the risk of melanoma an astonishing 75 percent. And a Swedish study shows that tanning just 10 times a year boosts the risk to 80 percent.
But what the state Legislature couldn’t accomplish may happen anyway at the federal level. The recently passed health care reform legislation includes a 10 percent tax on tanning beds – which should have the effect of making tanning more expensive. And dermatologists are urging the Food and Drug Administration to ban tanning for minors and require that customers be given the facts about skin cancer risks.
“Compelling, irrefutable scientific evidence shows that indoor tanning is causing skin cancer in our young people, and that is unacceptable,” says Dr. William D. James, president of the American Academy of Dermatology Association. James was testifying last week before an FDA panel considering new restrictions on indoor tanning devices.
On the other side of the issue is the indoor tanning industry, made up mostly of tanning salons and businesses that offer tanning along with other personal care services. Not many doctors in that group. Their main argument for the status quo: that indoor tanning can boost Vitamin D levels and personal well-being.
But doctors say a better way to get Vitamin D is in a pill, which unlike tanning has not been found to cause a fatal disease. As for mood enhancement, anything that involves relaxing in a warm environment with soft music playing – such as a bubble bath – would do just as well. Again, no cancer risk involved.
In fact, FDA staff researching the issue could find “no adequate evidence” that there are any potential health benefits in using tanning beds.
We allow adults to do things that are potentially dangerous – smoke, drink, buy guns – on the theory that as adults, they should be able to exercise judgment. That doesn’t always happen, but few would argue that we should make it legal for children to do those things. Yet they are free today to walk into tanning salons and participate in a behavior that puts them at risk of deadly skin cancer.
The FDA should act to protect young people and provide more skin cancer education to tanning bed users of all ages.