Consider this familiar storyline: A common,
non-essential, human activity is revealed with certainty to harm or kill repeat
users. Modest measures get proposed to regulate the activity and protect
individual and public health.
The industry that has grown large by promoting the
activity, however, is trying to derail the proposed regulation. They say
the science isn’t conclusive and, besides, individuals should be able to choose
for themselves what to do.
We could be talking about smoking. Instead, we’re
talking about the use of indoor tanning beds, which has been conclusively shown
to cause melanoma and other cancers. Senate Bill 746 is a common-sense
approach to prevent indoor-tanning salons from offering their services to
Under SB 746, anyone 18 and older can absolutely still
use tanning beds (and they can buy cigarettes afterward, if they wish).
But the principle behind the bill is that the use of indoor tanning beds is
risky and the results can be fatal, and so the choice to use them should be –
in every sense of the term – an adult decision.
As one might guess, SB 746 is being fought aggressively
by the indoor tanning industry, represented by the Indoor Tanning
Association. Their claims – that the science is inconclusive and that 15
year olds know best – could easily have been borrowed from the tobacco industry
during the second half of the last century.
But their claims need
refuting, which is not difficult to do:
The scientific evidence that tanning beds kill is
airtight. Multiple studies have specifically confirmed the direct causal
connection between indoor tanning beds and deadly skin cancer. These
studies have themselves undergone meta-analysis from the International Agency
for Research on Cancer, which has classified the radiation from tanning beds as
“carcinogenic to humans.” A 2004 study in England found that 25 percent
of the melanomas found in young women owed to the use of tanning beds.
In 2009 the World Health Organization classified tanning
beds as a level 1 carcinogen, the same as plutonium and cigarettes. The
US Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug administration
have added tanning beds to their lists of dangerous carcinogens. The
house of medicine uniformly agrees tanning beds cause cancer. The
American Academy of Pediatrics recommends prohibitions like that in SB 746,
which is sponsored by the California Society of Dermatology and Dermatologic
Surgery and the Aim at Melanoma Foundation. Health insurers such as
Kaiser Permanente and Anthem Blue Cross also support the tanning-bed ban
proposed in SB 746.
We don’t let children smoke cigarettes or buy vodka
with parental consent. Current law allows 14-to-17 year olds to use
tanning beds with parental consent, the rationale being that parents can be
expected to better understand the risks than do their kids. The parental
consent rule, unfortunately, is inadequately enforced. Some forms provide
little information beyond space for a signature. In other cases, consent
forms can portray “sunburn” as the major health concern rather than malignant
cancer. And parents with questions about health and safety are typically
on their own, as no specific training in health risks is required of salon
There is an alternative to tanning beds. There is a
safe, effective alternative to tanning beds that many tanning salons already
offer: commercial spray tanning. This tanning is growing in
popularity, and celebrities like Snookie of Jersey Shore have switched to
spray-tanning. SB 746 is less a threat to tanning salons than an
opportunity to serve valued clients in a safer, more responsible way.
Because of the incontrovertible medical evidence linking
tanning beds directly to skin cancer, several countries in Europe such as
France and England have banned tanning beds for anyone under 18. Brazil
has banned tanning beds completely for all ages. In the US, 30 states
have some restrictions on teen UVR tanning. Texas is the most
progressive, with a tanning-bed ban for anyone under 16 and a half. New
York, Illinois, Ohio and Rhode Island currently have bills in progress similar
to SB 746.
It is time we follow where the evidence takes us.
We in California must act now so that someday we won’t have to regret the
suffering and loss of life that occurred after we already knew