tanning bed, Image courtesy flickr creative commons, Evil Erin
Tanning Bed, Image courtesy flickr creative commons, Evil Erin Credit: Flickr creative commons, Evil Erin

By Rose Hoban

High school girls wanting to have a tan for the prom may soon be back to using the sun, or spray-on makeup, instead of tanning beds to get a glow after a bill to ban teenagers from using tanning salons got through a legislative committee Tuesday.

Currently, 14- to 18-year-olds must get parental consent to use a tanning bed.

Tanning industry representative Joseph Levy
Tanning industry representative Joseph Levy spoke against the tanning bed ban to a House committee Tuesday.

Last week, advocates’ efforts to get the Youth Skin Cancer Prevention Act through the House of Representatives  Health and Human Services committee was derailed when an industry lobbyist contested the science behind dermatologists’ claims that use of tanning beds increases the risk for skin cancer and melanoma.

The House committee voted last week to learn more before making a final vote on the bill.

Children’s health advocates spent this past week talking to legislators on the committee while industry representatives were simultaneously flooding legislative email inboxes with studies intended to bolster their case that tanning is unrelated to melanoma in young people.

Pinehurst tanning salon owner Jim Bivens said the bill would mean a 25 percent reduction in his business.

“This bill is not doing anything to help small business. It’s doing nothing but hurt it,” Bivens told the committee.

“Like a lot of other issues based on science, I find it hard to come down on one side or the other when there is still a question about the validity of the absolute,” said Rep. Marilyn Avila (R-Raleigh).

Avila also expressed doubt about the advocates’ arguments about tanning,  quoting the medieval toxicology pioneer Paracelsus: “Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy.”

Dr. Kelly Nelson from Duke University argued for banning teens from using tanning beds.
Dr. Kelly Nelson from Duke University argued for banning teens from using tanning beds.

She concluded that teens would find a way to tan, whether it is in a salon, or in the sun or using a home unit. Avila said she felt “it needs to be in a controlled environment with supervision, which I feel belongs in the parents’ hands.”

But advocates were ready this week to counter industry claims that they called “misrepresentative scientific information that the tanning industry has used to try to confuse the issues about this bill.”

Kelly Nelson, a dermatologist who heads a melanoma clinic at Duke University Medical Center, said many hours had been spent in the past week talking to legislators and researchers to bolster the case against tanning beds.

Nelson said she had contacted a researcher whose study was cited last week by an industry lobbyist to emphasize disagreement in the dermatology community around the causes of melanoma.

He was very upset to learn of how his views were being misrepresented,” Nelson told the committee. “He, like many other dermatologists, supports legislation to prohibit teens from using tanning beds.”

Nelson called the data associating use of tanning beds by young people with melanoma development “overwhelming.”

“Of course, everyone who uses a tanning bed will not develop skin cancer, just as everyone who smokes will not develop lung cancer,” Nelson said. “Children who use indoor tanning beds are increasing their risk of skin cancer and deserve the protection this law entails.”

“You may ask why we’re doing this, it certainly not to benefit our bottom line,” she said. “To be honest about it, this legislation will hopefully mean a reduction in business for me, which is exactly what myself and all of our colleagues who work on melanoma want.”

The committee voted overwhelmingly to approve the bill and sent it on to the House Regulatory Reform Committee.

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Rose Hoban is the founder and editor of NC Health News, as well as being the state government reporter. Hoban has been a registered nurse since 1992, but transitioned to journalism after earning degrees...