Commentary & Opinion
3:32 pm
Mon August 20, 2012

Blair Horner: More Evidence that Indoor Tanning Causes Cancer

Last week, New York’s law on indoor tanning went into effect.  The law prohibits all those 16 years old and younger from using indoor tanning beds or booths.  The logic of the ban has become more compelling.

The prestigious British Medical Journal published the latest research on the impact of indoor tanning.  It concluded that indoor tanning is “associated with a significant increase in risk of melanoma. This risk increases with number of sunbed sessions and with initial usage at a young age” (those under the age of 35 years).  The report also found:

·         “The risk of melanoma was doubled when use started before the age of 35 years.

·          “that indoor tanning increased the risk of squamous cell carcinoma, especially when sunbed use started before the age of 20.”

·         “Powerful ultraviolet tanning units may be 10-15 times stronger than the midday sunlight on the Mediterranean Sea.”

The researchers concluded that “Melanoma and other skin cancers that are specifically associated with sunbed use are preventable diseases by avoiding exposure to these devices.”

These results add to a mountain of evidence about the dangers of indoor tanning use, particularly for younger people.  It was the World Health Organization that determined that the radiation found in indoor tanning beds and booths constitute a known human carcinogen.  Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have identified a huge increase in melanoma among young people – with a four-fold increase in melanoma among young men and a whopping eight-fold increase among young women.

Yet the industry’s lobbying and advertising blitz has effectively kept policymakers and the public largely in the dark about the growing scientific evidence of growing cancer risk for indoor tanners.

But as the tobacco industry has learned, it’s only a matter of time that mounting scientific evidence trumps public relations efforts.

The cracks in the industry’s defenses started two years ago when the Federal Trade Commission found that the indoor tanning industry’s trade association was involved in a public relations campaign that was so deceptive that the FTC forced them to take down their ads.

And lawmakers started understanding the growing cancer menace associated with tanning use.  In the states of California and Vermont, laws were passed that banned indoor tanning for all those under the age of 18.

Yet the indoor tanning industry continued to argue that it should be the parents’ decision – not lawmakers’— as to whether minors should be allowed to indoor tan.

The researchers writing in the British Medical Journal observed that the indoor tanning industry’s argument that self-regulation works is a fatally flawed concept: “Generally the sunbed industry has not self-regulated effectively and has tended to disseminate non-evidence based information, which can deceive consumers. Tanning salon operators simply following regulations is an illusory prevention method, as such regulations are unable to turn a carcinogenic agent into a healthy one.

“If sunbed use by teenagers and young adults does not substantially decrease in the short term, then more radical actions should be envisioned, such as the nationwide prohibition of the public use of tanning devices.”

So here are the facts:  Indoor tanning dramatically raises a person’s risk of getting cancer.  The younger you are when you start, the greater the risk.  No one should use indoor tanning devices and no child should be allowed to do so.

New York State took a major step in curbing the skin cancer epidemic caused by indoor tanning; the growing evidence makes the case that more steps may need to be taken.

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.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

Related program: