NC legislators consider limits on tanning beds for those under 18

relder@newsobserver.comFebruary 18, 2013 Updated 5 hours ago

  • About melanoma

    Melanoma is a form of cancer that affects the skin or other pigmented tissues, such as the eye.

    It most often develops in areas on the body exposed to the sun, such as the face, back, legs, arms or face.

    It’s the most deadly form of skin cancer. Allowed to grow, melanoma can spread cancer to other parts of the body.

    Early detection is a key factor in survival rates.

Studies that show strong links between tanning beds and skin cancer have prompted state lawmakers to propose making indoor-tanning salons off limits to anyone under age 18.

The bill, slated to go before the House Health and Human Services committee Tuesday, would limit tanning-bed services to adults, doing away with current rules that permit those ages 14 through 17 to tan with parental permission.

“The numbers are very convincing that sun exposure carries a cancer risk, and people under 18 seem to be more vulnerable than older folks,” said Republican Jim Fulghum, a co-sponsor of the bill and a Wake County neurosurgeon.

Young, white women are the heaviest users of tanning beds and are also the group most likely to develop melanoma, said David Ollila, a surgical oncologist at UNC’s Lineberger Cancer Center who helped write the proposed legislation. He cited two studies, one from Minnesota and one from New South Wales.

“The results show unequivocally that people who have ever used a tanning bed have higher rates of melanoma, and it’s most pronounced in those who used them in their teens or 20s.” Ollila said.

The correlation between tanning bed use and skin cancer gets stronger as the number of salon visits goes up, he added, “so it’s really scary when you see people who’ve been in tanning beds more than 100 times.”

Two previous bills aimed at limiting tanning bed use by juveniles were introduced in previous N.C. legislative sessions but stalled in committee, Ollila said. But he and Fulghum feel that the current bill has momentum.

Tanning industry representatives argue that the limits would hurt businesses. And they say proper use of tanning beds can minimize risk.

“It’s all about moderation,” said Jill Donovan, who owns four tanning salons in the Triangle. “We do a skin analysis and have policies in place to prevent people from burning. It can actually help prevent overexposure when you build a base tan before going out in the sun.”

That’s exactly what Lindsy Weeks, 16, had in mind when she entered a tanning bed for the first time Monday at one of Donovan’s salons, Jill’s Beach in Cary.

“I’ve got spring break coming up in five weeks, and I wanted to get a start on my tan so I won’t burn,” Weeks said.

She brought her mother along to sign the necessary forms granting permission for the session, which lasted six minutes. Weeks, who works as a cashier at a restaurant, paid for a total of five sessions and will tan once weekly in preparation for her trip to Emerald Isle.

She thinks requiring parental permission is sufficient to regulate tanning for 14- to 17-year-olds.

“We run around and don’t wear sunscreen half the time, or we might spend all day at the pool,” she said. “There are plenty of things teens do that put them at greater risk. I think at almost 17, I should be able to make my own decisions.”

Weeks said the tanning staff advised her on the intensity and length of her tanning session, made sure she had on proper eyewear and asked her about any medications that could make sun exposure unsafe.

But the link between skin cancer and indoor tanning was never raised, Weeks said.

A report from the World Health Organization, which compiled numerous published studies, said tanning bed use before age 35 triples the risk of developing melanoma. About 76,000 new melanoma cases and nearly 9,200 deaths from melanoma were recorded in 2012, according to American Cancer Society figures.

Other states vary on the issue of teenagers and tanning beds. Vermont and California ban anyone under 18 from using tanning salons. Wisconsin bans anyone under 16.

And at least 14 other states require parental permission for anyone under 18.

Elder: 919-829-4528

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