California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed into law a bill that prohibits children under 18 years of age from using tanning beds. Although thirty other states already have age restrictions, this new law, set to take effect on Jan. 1, is the first in the nation to set a higher age limit.
Currently in Pennsylvania legislation is being considered to require salons to post warning signs stating the dangers of tanning bed use. They may also require children under the age of 18 to be accompanied by a parent and obtain written permission to use tanning beds. According to Pennlive.com, there are currently no statewide regulations, but many salon owners take it upon themselves to impose age restrictions.
“People who use tanning beds are at higher risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer,” Wendy Simpkins, senior director of media relations and mission communications for the American Cancer Society (ACS), stated.
According to research by the ACS, the number of teens using tanning beds has increased from 1 percent in 1998 to 27 percent today. The UV exposure from indoor tanning beds poses a higher risk to teens and young adults, leading to the early development of melanoma. “When I was younger in college I thought I would be 70 and develop [skin] cancer, and it would be cut off,” Kristin Shoumaker, a melanoma survivor, stated in a phone conversation. “I never imagined I would be a new mother at 24 [and diagnosed with melanoma].”
In fact, many people are being diagnosed at a younger age. Research conducted in 2006 concluded that individuals who use indoor tanning beds before the age of 30 increase their risk of developing melanoma by 75 percent. According to an ACS publication, “the link between UV exposure from indoor tanning devices and melanoma is consistent with what we already know about the association between UV exposure from the sun and skin cancer.”
Many legislators wish to create more strict policies for tanning bed use for teens throughout Pennsylvania. An article on Pennlive.com stated that Representative Rose Marie Swanger would like it to become a criminal offense for tanning salons to serve individuals under the age of 18. This could result in a fine for the owners or, in the case of a repeated offense, the loss of their salon license.
“I think it’s crucial for other states to follow suit with California. There are clear links between increased chances of melanoma in individuals who tan, especially at a young age,” Julie Strulson, president of Etown’s chapter of Colleges Against Cancer (CAC), stated. CAC is a group on campus committed to fighting cancer through the help of the college community. They put on events during the year with support and help from the ACS.
Although there are no definitive regulations, the rising number of skin cancer cases due to tanning bed use requires deliberation. The overall agreement: children under the age of 18 do not possess the amount of reasoning needed to weigh the long-term risks of tanning bed use with or against the short-term effects.
A publication by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) states that it “supports efforts to prohibit minors from using tanning beds, to ensure that all consumers are warned of the risk prior to use.” It also states that its goal is to educate children, as well as parents, about ways to reduce the risk of skin cancer through information about sun safety and tanning bed use.
“People are well aware of the risks of tanning beds just as much as they are aware of the risk of smoking,” Strulson commented. “Because there is a clear connection between both of these things and cancer, if you are under 18, it should be illegal. If you are over 18 and are aware of these risks but still chose to do these things, that’s on you.”
Many people assume that tanning beds only pose a risk of skin cancer if they are used frequently; however this is not actually the case. “I started [using tanning beds] when I was a freshman in high school,” Shoumaker stated. “I was 15 and only went for special occasions like school dances.” These occasional trips to the salon resulted in melanoma nine years later.
However, there are other options available to individuals who desire the bronzed look. Self-tanners allow the user to get a tan without the harmful effect of UV rays from tanning beds and the sun.“I think you only live once, [and] what you look like on the outside doesn’t matter that much,” Shoumaker said. “Melanoma can take your life. One burn can push you toward more risk. [As a college student] you need to look toward the future.”