The Child Fatality Task Force prepares recommendations to legislators for the short session.
By Rose Hoban
Teenage girls heading to their high school proms will be a little paler in the future, if members of a Child Fatality Task Force subcommittee have their way.
Members of the Unintentional Death Committee approved a recommendation this week that would outlaw tanning bed use for teenagers under the age of 18. They also approved measures to encourage increased seatbelt use by teens, pilot the use of speed cameras in school and work zones, and promote more driving safety.
A proposed recommendation to eliminate a new $45 fee for driver education failed.
The idea of restricting tanning bed use in teens has been floating around the legislature for years, but this year, the Child Fatality Task Force finally took up the question in earnest.
Teenagers in North Carolina under 13 have been restricted from using tanning beds since 2004, unless they have a doctor’s note. But older teens use the devices widely at tanning salons.
Even in states requiring parental consent, more than 80 percent of salons said they have sold to an underage patron, reported Task Force director Elizabeth Hudgins. She said ten states have bans for teenagers under 18 and at least ten more are considering banning their use by teens.
“The overall cost of skin cancer in the US is $1.7 billion,” said Rob Lamme, a lobbyist representing the North Carolina Dermatology Association.
The state’s three largest insurance providers – Blue Cross/ Blue Shield of North Carolina, the State Health Plan, and North Carolina’s Medicaid program – spent about $115 million on the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer since 2008, Lamme told the committee.
“There’s a dramatic increase in young women’s melanomas,” said UNC dermatologist Craig Burkhart. “They are the most frequent users of tanning beds. There seems to be a cause and effect for females who start tanning at a younger age, with the early development of melanoma. Males have a higher incidence later in life.”
Burkhart said studies measuring the strength of tanning beds found they emit least 15 times the radiation of the noontime sun.
“I decided to stop by tanning salons in my district and all of them supported a ban for kids under 18,” said Rep. Craig Horn (R-Weddington), “One already had a policy that you must be 18 years old, and they didn’t feel like they’d lost any business at all.”
Representatives of the tanning industry attended an earlier task force committee meeting where there was an extensive discussion of tanning beds, but no industry representatives spoke up during Monday’s conversation.
North Carolina has only three inspectors who monitor radiation in tanning beds and legal compliance by tanning salons for the entire state. Salon operators pay the state $200 per year plus $30 per bed to cover regulatory costs.
“Legislators… may have to look at that depending on what decision you make here,” said Lee Cox, from the Division of Health Service Regulation. “We have a good, capable staff, and in our philosophy as a regulatory agency, we want to educate to life, not regulate to death.”
Driver Education Fees
High school students taking driver education will continue paying a $45 fee to take the class in many school districts across the state.
Instructors from a number of school districts around North Carolina have reported drops in the number of students signing up for driver education since the General Assembly trimmed $5 million out of the state’s budget for driver education in last year’s budget. Lawmakers gave school districts the option to levy a $45 fee for the classes.
Some districts have also reported reduced slots for driver education and some districts have run out of money to educate new drivers before year’s end.
But those reports failed to convince legislators on the Child Fatality Task Force to recommend eliminating the fee to the General Assembly.
“I am not convinced that $45 is a deterrent,” said Rep. Craig Horn (R-Weddington) during a meeting of the Unintentional Death Committee of the Child Fatality Task Force this week. “I understand that it is a reduction. But when we’ve got a thousand people showing up at a mall when they’re going to introduce a new sneaker, I’m not convinced that $45 is an issue.”
Horn said he believed instead that lawmakers, insurers and educators haven’t done a good enough job at making the case that driver education was important.
“I’m a big believer in driver education,” said Sen. Stan Bingham (R-Davidson). “I think this state would be well served to encourage an insurance discount for those who take driver education successfully. It promotes safe driving, reduces claims and reduces accidents, everybody wins.”
Eventually the committee decided to on a recommendation to “increase incentives and reduce barriers” to driver education.
Driver education teachers present at the committee meeting expressed disappointment.
“i thought we worked long enough and hard enough and brought enough evidence to the table to warrant what was presented,” said Connie Sessoms, a Driver Education program specialist for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools after the meeting.
“But anything that moves us off of the square that we’re on will help. And if we’ve convinced thtem that driver education needs to be strengthened, maybe that attitude will become pervasive across acress the General Assembly,” Sessoms said.
Seat Belts and Speed Cameras
Other recommendations to the Child Fatality Task Force by the committee include:
- Making failure by teens to wear a back seat seatbelt a primary offense. A primary offense is one that law enforcement officers can stop a driver for. Currently wearing back seat seatbelts is a secondary offense, one that an officer can ticket for only if the car was stopped for another problem.
- Provide funds for a pilot program to install speed cameras in school and road work zones.
- Work towards establishing permanent drop off locations for unneeded prescription medications.
- Work on strategies to reduce unintentional deaths from prescription drugs.