Tanning Beds: WHO Issues Official Warning

tanningbedwhite_175wIn July, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a working group of the World Health Organization, added ultraviolet (UV) radiation-emitting tanning devices - tanning beds and lamps - to the list of the most dangerous forms of cancer-causing radiation. It joins an assembly of hazardous substances including plutonium and certain types of radium, as well as radiation from the sun.

Tanning beds and lamps join an assembly of hazardous substances including plutonium and certain types of radium, as well as radiation from the sun.

The IARC report cited research showing that tanning is especially hazardous to young people; those who use sunbeds before age 30 increase their lifetime risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, by 75 percent. The authors also pointed to studies showing a link between UV radiation from indoor tanning devices and melanomas of the skin and eyes. Melanoma will kill an estimated 8,650 people in the US this year alone. And melanoma isn't the only problem: people who use tanning beds are 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma. Squamous cell carcinoma kills an estimated 2,500 Americans a year.

Tanning Legislation Goes Global
The fight against UV tanning is actually now international: Germany recently banned indoor tanning for those under age 18. The Scottish government has also drafted such legislation, and similar efforts are afoot in several other countries across Europe. In Victoria, Australia, the number of tanning salons has dropped from 436 to 240 in the wake of the much-publicized melanoma death of 26-year-old Clare Oliver, a former UV tanner who in her final days warned Australians to avoid indoor tanning.

The report received widespread publicity from news organizations, and brought attention to a lack of laws and oversight limiting minors' access to UV tanning devices. This lack of controls affects millions of teenagers: A 2003 study found that almost 37 percent of white females and over 11 percent of white males between 13 and 19 years old in the US have used tanning beds. Some states permit children under 14 to tan if they are simply accompanied by a parent or guardian.

In June, Texas drew attention from all over the country when it enacted the strictest tanning law in the nation, banning children under age 16 from indoor tanning and requiring in-person parental consent for everyone under 18. In Delaware, a recently passed law prohibits those under 14 from tanning facilities unless they have a doctor's prescription and requires those under 18 to have a parent or guardian sign a consent form in the presence of a tanning facility operator. Bills pending in Georgia, Hawaii, and Kansas would require the written, in-person consent of a parent or guardian for those under 18. And Minnesota is considering a law that would ban those under 16 from using tanning facilities; this is already the law in Wisconsin.

Former Miss Ohio Karissa Martin [see Glamour and Glow: Pageant Contestants Take on Tanning] is teaming up with lawmakers to promote what would be the nation's strictest tanning law. Ohio House Bill 173 would ban anyone under 18 from salon tanning unless they have a doctor's prescription. The bill has bi-partisan sponsorship from state representatives Courtney Eric Combs and Lorraine Fende, and Representative Combs said the bill has "a good chance" of being passed. It could be enacted as soon as 2010.

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Melanoma isn't the only problem: people who use tanning beds are 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma.

From the Sun & Skin News, vol. 26, No. 3, Fall 2009.