Tanning-bed industry faces legislative heat

Jun 3 2011 - 2:47pm

For young people in North Carolina, getting that bronzed summer glow could become more complicated and costly.

The Youth Skin Cancer Prevention Act, a bill sponsored by three senators who also are doctors, would require people younger than 18 to have a physician's prescription to tan indoors.

Opponents say the legislation encroaches on parental rights and goes too far in regulating an industry that already faces many restrictions. Those in favor say it would help to reduce melanoma, one of the most common and dangerous forms of skin cancer for adolescents and young adults, significantly cutting treatment costs.

"The law could save lives," said Dr. Craig Burkhart, a pediatric dermatologist at the University of North Carolina Medical School and the president of the N.C. Dermatology Association. "It really educates people (at a young age) that indoor tanning is not safe."

On occasion, doctors might prescribe an indoor tanning regimen to treat certain types of acne or dermatitis, but as a rule, "no tanning is ideal," Burkhart said. "We always preach the importance of a sun-protection regimen."

If the Senate bill becomes law, North Carolina will have the toughest tanning law in the country. The current state law now allows anyone age 13 to 18 to tan with parental consent but requires a prescription for children under 13. Three dozen states have laws that regulate the industry; 32 of them require parental consent or ban tanning below a certain age.

A study in the May issue of the American Journal of Public Health calls into question whether such laws do any good. The study of more than 6,000 U.S. adolescents ages 14 to 17 found that just over 17 percent of girls had used indoor tanning. Laws limiting access to tanning did not significantly affect whether the girls had tanned. Parental choices did.

Skin cancer treatment over the past three years cost more than $100 million for the state employees health plan, N.C. Medicaid and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of North Carolina.

Sen. Bill Purcell, a Democrat, a pediatrician and one of the bill's sponsors, cited the cost of treating skin cancer in his support for the legislation.

The bill received bipartisan support in the Senate's health care committee and is now in the Commerce Committee, which has a business-friendly Republican majority.

The under-18 tanning clientele tends to be relatively small, said John Overstreet, executive director of the Indoor Tanning Association. He said tanning salons' primary users are women between 19 and 35.

The tanning industry argues that teens are always going to want a tan and that a salon can help them do it safely.

Therron Miller, marketing director for Cabana Tans, which has three salons in the North Raleigh area, said, "A teenager who gets a protective base tan at a responsible salon may be better protected to go off on a vacation where they'll be lying in the sun all day."

The N.C. Radiation Protection section of the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources already regulates salons. Anyone who wants to work in a salon must go through training and certification.

The state also requires tanning salons to provide a warning statement, which clients must sign, that defines the risks of exposure to ultraviolet radiation.

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)


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