Pale may be the new tan

by Daniel Bowden
Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Staff photo by Joshua Curry 

A bill introducing tanning salon legislation, restricting the age of those allowed to use them, is pending the North Carolina General Assembly.

A bill that originated in the North Carolina House of Representatives in late January would prohibit all persons younger than 18 from using UV-related indoor tanning equipment. 

This alters a bill passed in 2004, which allowed the use of indoor tanning for anyone over the age of 14. Those under 13 can tan with a prescription from a medical professional. 

Dr. Rosalyn George, of the Wilmington Dermatology Center, has been an outspoken advocate of restricting minors from using indoor tanning. She has attempted to meet with and has sent letters to several senators to help push for the passing of the 2013 bill.

“Skin cancer is an epidemic,” George said. “There are more new cases of skin cancer in this country than any other cancer combined.”

George said, in scientific literature, indoor tanning has been well associated with several types of skin cancer, including melanoma.

“Melanoma skin cancer is the kind of skin cancer that will kill you,” George said by telephone on Tuesday, March 5. “If you use indoor tanning, you have a 75 percent increased risk of developing melanoma. The numbers are worse if you tan before the age of 18.”

Laws have been passed banning indoor tanning for minors in California and Vermont, and legislation is currently being discussed in several others. Eleven European countries have also passed laws prohibiting those younger than 18 from using indoor tanning.

“We can’t ignore the evidence,” said Rep. Jim Fulghum, M.D., R-Wake, on Tuesday, March 5. Fulghum is one of four primary sponsors of the bill. “To do so would be to put our heads in the sand. This is a public safety issue,” he said.

Fulghum cited an Oct. 2012 meta-analysis conducted by the British Medical Journal that looked at more than 10,000 patients in 12 studies that predicted 175,000 new cases of basal cell and squamous cell skin cancer per year due specifically to indoor tanning. New cases were particularly prevalent in young women.

In regard to the effect of banning minors and the impact to the tanning business, Fulghum said he was under the impression that only 5-10 percent of the indoor tanning industry’s business came from those younger than 18 wanting to use UV-related tanning.

“There are other types of tanning materials,” Fulghum said. “Spray-on tans, as a business model, have been more profitable for some businesses in other states when they’ve converted. I don’t think this will impact them in a significant way if they’re flexible.”

Local indoor tanning businesses Tropical Tans, Sundown Tanning and Timeless Tans declined to comment on the issue.

In a prepared response, American Suntanning Association Executive Director Tracie Cunningham said the bill sends the wrong message about UV exposure, which should be done under the supervision of trained professionals, and that decisions regarding UV light and exposure should be left to the parents of minors. 

“Banning teens will result in pushing them to unregulated alternatives like home units or even risking sunburn outdoors,” Cunningham stated.

George said she believes the risks posed by UV exposure can be compared to cigarettes.

“If any cigarette manufacturer were to suggest that they needed to make more money at the expense of giving cancer to children, that would be completely ludicrous,” George said. “That’s basically what the tanning industry is trying to tell us.”

The bill passed in the House upon first reading on Jan. 30, and as of March 5, had been referred to the House Regulatory Reform Committee. If the bill moves forward and passes in the Senate, it will become effective Oct. 1, 2013.


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