Goal 4: Reduce Harms from Indoor Tanning

It’s impossible to fully avoid UV exposure from the sun, but we can completely avoid the dangers of UV tanning beds. The Surgeon General has made this a major goal in the Call to Action.  “Tanned skin is damaged skin,” he said repeatedly during the press conference announcing the initiative. “Indoor tanning is not a benefit to the nation’s public health,” he added.

Indeed, indoor tanning is linked to more than 400,000 cases of skin cancer each year, and has been linked to every major form of the disease – basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. The World Health Organization has classified tanning devices as a known human carcinogen. Yet despite this knowledge, a tanning culture still exists in the United States.  Young people continue to flock to tanning salons. One out of every three white women, ages 16-25, say they tanned in the past year.  Studies show that indoor tanning at younger ages leads to a higher lifetime risk of skin cancer.

Colleges and universities can become partners in changing this culture.  Currently, some campuses have tanning beds in their fitness centers and agreements with local tanning salons allowing students to pay for tanning services with their university-sponsored debit cards.  Schools need to eliminate such practices and adopt policies that discourage indoor tanning.

In May, the FDA got tougher on tanning devices, reclassifying them from relatively harmless Class I devices to “moderate to high risk” class II devices.  They also sent a clear message by mandating that these devices include a black box warning label discouraging use by minors under age 18.

Change is happening on the state level, too.  Since 2011, eleven states have adopted tanning bed bans for young people under age 18. More than a third of these laws just passed in 2014. Advocates are calling the recent wave of tanning device bans a national movement. “There’s clearly more science showing the dangers of tanning devices, and more organizations and individuals who want to protect minors,” said Samantha Guild, an advocate with AIM at Melanoma, a non-profit research and advocacy organization.   Research shows that tanning bed use among teens drops in states with tanning device restrictions.

The “nanny-state” argument—that the state is interfering in personal choice--- no longer holds sway in many states that have passed these bans.  “In Texas, it was a big issue.  However, many parents spoke out in support of banning tanning devices for all minors,” said Guild. “We had a mother who actively supported the bill by sharing her daughter’s story with the Texas legislature.” (The mother had reluctantly allowed her daughter to visit tanning salons, and she later died of melanoma.)  Now that conservative states such as Texas and Louisiana have passed tanning device bans, it may pave the way for other red states to pass legislation, she added.  The likelihood of passing a federal ban is small, according to Guild, but the movement will build from the local level, similar to how restrictions on the sale of tobacco products to youth began on the state level.  “It has become a state and community issue,” she said. 

Published on August 27, 2014