Citing Risks of Cancer, States Seek to Limit Teen Tanning

By: - March 19, 2012 12:00 am

Legislators and cancer researchers are trying to turn out the lights on indoor tanning for teens. Lawmakers in 12 states are currently debating bills restricting tanning bed use for anyone under age 18, with some states allowing parental consent and other imposing an outright ban, according to analysis from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Currently, 27 states have laws requiring parental consent for teen tanning under ages 17 and 18. Minnesota and Connecticut require parental consent for teens under16, and Virginia for teens under 15.

Legislators are responding to new research that directly links indoor tanning to skin cancer. Tanning booths deliver 10 to 15 times the UV radiation of natural sunlight, boosting the user’s risk of developing deadly melanoma by at least 75 percent, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Teenage girls, one of the largest demographics of tanners, are more susceptible to melanoma than other groups, according to the National Cancer Institute. Its research found that melanoma is the second most common form of cancer for young people 15-29 years old.

These bans have not gone over well with tanning salon owners and the Indoor Tanning Association, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group that lobbies on behalf of the tanning industry. But interest in the bans generally fades when concerned tanners speak to state lawmakers, says Executive Director John Overstreet. He points to efforts in Florida, West Virginia and Washington this year where bans were debated, but ultimately failed.

“Thus far,” Overstreet says, “things are progressing OK this year. The secret in this is that the people in the state have to speak up.”

In Utah, the state with the highest rate of melanoma skin cancer in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control, lawmakers earlier this month approved a bill that will require parents to accompany their children under 18 to any tanning salon, and require the salon to give the parent a written notice of the risks associated with indoor tanning.

“Parents have a right to know when their children are taking on a known carcinogen,” said Rep. Brad Wilson, House sponsor of the tanning restrictions, in an interview with the Deseret News. “This is something that is so risky that we ought to have a parent know every time a child goes in to do this…I know this bill will save lives.”

The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates tanning beds, has not taken a formal position on the issue of teen tanning, but the agency is considering modifying regulations for tanning beds to reduce the amount of UV exposures they emit. The FDA, National Cancer Institute and other health organizations advise avoiding indoor tanning entirely.

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