Blair Horner: Ban the Indoor Tan

Last week, new data was released from the American Cancer Society.  It showed a staggering increase in melanoma cases in New York State.  Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer.  According to the analysis, over the past ten years the number of melanoma cases has increased by 72 percent. 

Why the increase?  The report speculated that there are likely to be three main causes:  (1) health care providers and the public itself has become more alert to melanoma’s warning signs and thus are detecting more cases that would have been caught in the past; (2) decades of sun worshiping is taking its toll; and (3) the staggering rise in the use of indoor tanning salons.

Here are some of the facts: 

·         First, a history of sunburns can increase a person’s risk for melanoma two-fold. 

·         Second, there has been a gigantic increase in the use of indoor tanning facilities – particularly among teenagers.  Since 1998, teens reporting use of tanning beds has increased from 1% to 27%.  The more you expose yourself to UV radiation, the more likely you are to get skin cancer.

·         Third, when the World Health Organization determined that the UV rays found in indoor tanning booths were a human carcinogen, they also stated that individuals who used indoor tanning devices before the age of 30 increase their risk for melanoma by 75 percent. 

·         Fourth, last month researchers from the prestigious Mayo Clinic found that there has been an eight-fold increase in melanoma cases among young women and a four-fold increase in young men over the past few decades.

So what should be done?  There is pending legislation that would prohibit minors from using indoor tanning facilities.  This common sense bill draws an appropriate line – like prohibiting minors from purchasing cigarettes, this bill clearly makes exposure to this carcinogen off-limits to young people who simply do not have the capacity to decide whether they should indoor tan.

Those over the age of 18 need to know the facts.  Facts which have been hard to come by since the indoor tanning industry has done all it can to muddy those facts. 

In 2010, the Federal Trade Commission forced the Indoor Tanning Association (the trade association of indoor tanning businesses) to stop making health claims, charging the association with “making false health and safety claims about indoor tanning.  Contrary to claims by the association’s advertising, indoor tanning increases the risk of squamous cell and melanoma skin cancers.” [Emphasis added] The FTC settlement was with the Association alone.

Yet a February 2012 Congressional report found that members of the industry continued to mislead the public.  The House of Representatives committee on Energy and Commerce released a report, False and Misleading Health Information Provided to Teens by the Indoor Tanning Industry

The findings showed a vast majority of tanning salons contacted by the investigators provided false information about the risks of indoor tanning and the health benefits that indoor tanning provides. 

Given the industry’s track record, it’s no wonder that the public is unaware of the real dangers posed by indoor tanning.

So, let’s be clear:  Indoor tanning is dangerous.  As mentioned earlier, theWorld Health Organization elevated tanning beds to the highest cancer risk category - group 1 – “carcinogenic to humans.”  That decision has been buttressed by research released by the nation’s top medical facilities, including Harvard School of Medicine and the Yale School of Public Health.  And that’s why the ban on minors being able to use indoor tanning facilities is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Dermatology as well as the American Cancer Society.

The stakes couldn’t be higher:  In New York, an estimated 4,700 people were diagnosed with melanoma and 440 died from it last year.

The states of California and Vermont have already responded to the weight of scientific evidence and the staggering harm caused by indoor tanning by banning its use by minors.  New York should act too. 


Blair Horner is the Vice President for Advocacy for the American Cancer Society, Eastern Division.  His commentary does not necessarily reflect the views of the American Cancer Society.

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