Teens’ indoor tanning gets once-over from governor

Getting a good-looking tan is as much a part of the California culture as hot cars, especially for teen-agers, but a bill awaiting Gov. Brown’s action would turn off the indoor tanning salon lights for anyone under 18.

Medical authorities generally agree that the salons can put people at risk for skin cancers and related maladies – an issue somewhat familiar to Brown, who under went surgery in April to have a cancerous growth removed from his nose.

The pending bill, SB 746 by Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Long Beach, would bar youngsters 17 years old and younger from patronizing the indoor tanning salons, where customers typically lie down under ultraviolet lights for up to 20 minutes at a stretch. Costs vary widely, but may cost $20 for an initial visit, less for repeat customers.

Under current law, youngsters 14 through 17 can go to the salons if they have signed permission. Brown has until Oct. 9 to act on the bill, which Lieu carried on behalf of dermatologists and which was pushed through largely by Democrats.

“Scientific research has shown conclusively that tanning beds cause skin cancer,” Lieu, D-Torrance, said after the Senate 24-12 vote approving the bill. “The younger kids are when they start using tanning beds, the greater the cumulative damage to their skin and the more likely they are to die of skin cancer.”

The tanning salon industry, which notes on its web site that it promotes “responsible sun care and sunburn prevention,” has been fighting Lieu’s bill, one of numerous political battles it is waging across the country.  Posts on the site also note the benefits of tanning and Vitamin D.

The trade group noting that the measure could cost the salons up to $10 million annually – a figure disputed by salon critics – and that it comes on the heels of a recently enacted federal tax. By one estimate, the federal levy forced some 20 percent of the state’s saloons to close down. The industry also faces similar limits across the country, with proposed teen tanning bans or limits in some 21 states, including  New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Illinois and Washington state, as well as Washington, D.C.

Hard data is not readily available and estimates of how many people use the salons in California vary widely. But may be in the range of 100,000 to 150,000 a day, based on population and estimates of national use which average about a million visits a day. Many people who use tanning salons are repeat visitors.

Most salon users – more than two-thirds, in fact — are Caucasian girls between the ages of 16 and 29. A recent study at the Cancer Prevention Institute of California, UCSF and Stanford found that the rate of melanoma has more than doubled among Californians most likely to use ultraviolet-emitting tanning beds: Girls and women aged 15 to 39 in high socioeconomic areas.

 The California Medical Association, which supported Lieu’s bill, said the salons posed health threats.

 “Rates of skin cancer – including melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer – continue to rise, even in young people. The use of tanning salons is a common practice among teenagers, especially females.

The intensity of ultraviolet radiation produced by some tanning units can be 10 to 15 times higher than the midday sun,” the CMA noted.

“Doctors and public health officials have long recommended taking steps to minimize the sun’s damage to the skin and eyes and warn about the dangers of tanning. Skin cancer can result not just from sunburn, but from regular tanning and exposure to ultraviolet radiation,” the CMA added.

The bill would replace current law, which requires young teens between 14 and 17 to obtain permission of a parent or guardian to use tanning beds. Children 14 and younger already are banned from using the ultraviolet-emitting machines.  

According to Lieu’s office, if the bill is signed into law, it would would take effect on Jan. 1 and make California the first state in the nation with such a ban.

Thirty states have imposed some restrictions on teens, including Texas, the only state with a tanning-bed ban for anyone under 16 and a half. In addition to the states considering legislation similar to California’s,  several countries in Europe, including France and England, have banned tanning beds for anyone under 18; with Brazil banning tanning beds completely for all ages.

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