First, some good news: fewer U.S. teens are using tanning beds. In 2013, 20 percent of high school girls reported visiting tanning beds, a drop from 25 percent in 2009, according to the latest data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Among high school boys, 5 percent reported using tanning beds in 2013, falling from nearly 7 percent in 2009.
Surely, the push in recent years to establish age restrictions on tanning bed use—including the 11 states that have banned tanning beds altogether for children under 18--- is reaping positive results.
But one group is being left behind: frequent tanners, who report tanning more than 10 times in the past year. According to the same CDC poll, the percentage of frequent tanners has remained unchanged since 2009. White females in their late teens continue to be the most likely habitual tanners. In 2013, 28 percent of white high school females 18 and older reported frequent tanning bed use.
We must improve at reaching teen girls and young women, making them fully understand that they’re putting their lives at risk each time they step into a tanning bed. One indoor tanning session can increase a person’s chance of developing melanoma by 20 percent, and each additional session during the same year boosts the risk by almost another two percent.
Teens and young adults can be hard to reach. Feeling invincible, they see the momentary “beauty” boost from a tan as much more important and tangible than what may lie down the road--- premature wrinkles and a skin cancer diagnosis. Their peers continue to boost one another’s behavior, upholding tan skin as a sign of health and beauty despite all scientific evidence to the contrary.
It doesn’t help that when these teens go on to college, tanning beds are widely available on university campuses. As we report in this issue, a recent study found that nearly half of the top US colleges have tanning beds on campus or in off-campus housing. Many campuses have implemented strict anti-tobacco and alcohol policies, yet they continue to endorse ultraviolet tanning beds. We attribute this to lack of knowledge or awareness on the part of administrators. In the coming months we will strive to bring this to national attention, encouraging college administrations to make the safe choice for their students and remove these deadly devices from their campuses.
Published on March 3, 2015