By Collier Rice
Sunshine State tanning laws could become a little cloudier over the coming weeks. A bill banning teenagers under the age of 16 from indoor tanning and requiring in-person parental consent for 16- and 17-year-olds is working its way through the state legislature.
The national health group Aim at Melanoma approached Sen. Eleanor Sobel last year with the initiative to ban Florida teenagers’ use of ultraviolet light-emitting indoor tanning beds.
“People associate melanoma with older people, but it’s actually on the rise with young adults,” said Samantha Guild, executive director of Aim at Melanoma.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), melanoma is the third most common skin cancer and the most dangerous, especially among young people.
Approximately 65 to 90 percent of melanomas are caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light or sunlight. Statistics show that melanoma is the second most common cancer for Florida men and women under the age of 40.
Sobel’s bill initially failed, but passed through the Florida Senate’s Health Regulation Committee on Jan. 19 with a unanimous vote.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer recently released a new study listing UV rays as a top tier carcinogen, putting it in the same category as cigarettes, plutonium and mustard gas.
Local teens don’t see the relation.
“There’s no way tanning beds are worse for you than cigarettes,” said Lindsay Jones, local teen and frequent indoor tanner.
“Nowadays, everything gives you cancer, if not tanning beds, then cell phones or TV,” said April Burns, another local teen.
Current Florida law stipulates that minors, 14 to 17 years of age, can use UV tanning beds provided they have a letter of consent from their parents. Teens under the age of 14 must be accompanied by a parent.
Parents, surprisingly, seem to agree with teens and support the legislation already in place.
“I know the dangers of UV exposure,” said Suzanne Wheeler, mother of two teenager daughters. “It’s my job as a parent to make sure they understand the dangers as well. I don’t need the government telling me how to raise my kids.”
John Overstreet, executive director of the Indoor Tanning Association (ITA), echoes these sentiments.
“Ultraviolet light is ultraviolet light,” he said. “If you restrict access to tanning salons, you’re just going to force kids outside where there is no supervision.”
“I think if a kid gets a tan, it’s between him and his parent, not the government,” he added.
This news comes on the heels of the Food and Drug Administration’s decision to intensify warning labels for tanning beds.
A study by the World Health Organization’s cancer division last summer concluded that the risk of melanoma increases by 75 percent in people who use tanning beds in their teens and 20s.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) states that exposure to tanning salon rays increases damage caused by sunlight because UV rays thin the skin, decreasing its ability to heal.
The FDA regulates tanning beds as “Class One,” a category of low-risk medical devices that includes bandages.
However, the FDA recently decided those labels are not a sufficient warning.
Dan Humiston, president of the ITA, argues there is no new science that would justify an increased warning.
“Any risk is to people who overdo it,” he said. “That’s easier to do in the sun.”
The FDA’s scientific advisers will open a public hearing in March, exploring stricter tanning bed regulation.
Most researchers agree that skin cancer can generally be prevented by protecting yourself from extensive exposure to UV light.
For information on skin cancer and UV protection, contact the CDC at 1-800-CDC-INFO or www.cdc.gov. Additional information can be found through the Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER or www.cancer.gov.