Metro, News

Ban the tan: new bill proposes prohibiting tanning beds for minors

R.I. bill would disallow anyone under 18 from using tanning beds, even with parental consent

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Martin Weinstock, professor of dermatology, explained that research shows that indoor tanning bed use is directly linked to increased cases of skin cancer. A new bill aims to decrease the number of skin cancer cases.

As the weather heats up, some R.I. residents are turning to tanning beds to prepare for the new season. But the R.I. General Assembly could put an end to this activity. On April 3, the R.I. Senate passed legislation that would ban anyone younger than 18 from using a tanning bed ­— hoping to replace current laws that allow minors to use the beds with parental consent. The bill (S2299A) is sponsored by Sen. Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D-24) and Rep. Mia Ackerman (D-45). The bill’s house equivalent (H7136) was held for further study in February.

“All tanning is skin damage, and even one single tanning session drastically increases a young person’s risk for skin cancer,” said Goodwin in a General Assembly press release. “It’s time to start treating tanning like the public health threat that it really is.”

Many states across the country have laws addressing tanning booth use by minors. Sixteen states, including Massachusetts and New Hampshire, bar anyone under 18 from using tanning booths in all cases except those when patients are prescribed ultraviolet rays as medical treatment, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

These laws have had positive effects on skin cancer rates in young adults, according to Deb Girard, executive director of IMPACT Melanoma.

“Melanoma rates in young adults are declining,” Girard said, adding that she hopes the rates will continue to decrease as regulation increases across the nation.

Girard said there have been efforts to limit tanning by minors for over 10 years. The biggest obstacle in the decade-long legislative process has been the indoor tanning industry, she added.

Martin Weinstock, professor of dermatology and community health at the Alpert Medical School, has done extensive research on the effects of tanning beds on skin cancer rates. His study found that indoor tanning “does increase your risk (of melanoma) substantially.”

Weinstock believes the industry minimizes the clear health concerns surrounding tanning beds by advertising to young customers. The tanning bed’s UV exposure can be “potentially addicting,” he said, adding that the light can cause a chemical reaction in the brain. “They are marketing addictive, carcinogenic, radiation exposure to young adults,” he said. “It’s pretty reprehensible.”

Weinstock said that the Affordable Care Act has decreased the number of tanning salons in the country. The ACA placed an excise tax on tanning booth salons, known as a “tanning tax.” This regulation has made tanning more expensive, causing many salons to go out of business, he added.

Stasa Bogacz, an employee at Maximum Exposure Tanning Salon in Providence and a senior at the University of Rhode Island, said that “it’s not too common” to see minors at Maximum Exposure, adding that when minors do come in, it is often for special events like prom. Despite being a molecular biology student who has studied the development of cancer, Bogacz herself uses a tanning bed about once a week, she said.

Though the salon makes clients sign consent forms that detail the danger of tanning beds, many customers choose to use the tanning bed over the spray tan because they are worried that spray tans would cause  “oranging,” stained clothes or uneven coloring, Bogacz said.

The spray tan, another version of artificial tanning, is not associated with any health concerns, Weinstock said. Though spray tans themselves are not dangerous, they encourage harmful sun exposure in those clients, who think the “base tan” color from the service protects them from sun damage, he added.

“The healthiest color for your skin is the color you’re born with,” Weinstock said.