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

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For the third year running, cancer treatment advocates are floating a bill to ban the use of indoor tanning beds for anyone under 18.

By Rose Hoban

For the third time in as many years, dermatologists gathered at the legislative building on Jones Street in Raleigh to offer free skin cancer screenings.

Susan Sanders and Sarah A. Wolfe, members of the N.C. Dermatology Association show their support for legislation prohibiting tanning bed use among minors. Photo credit: Hyun Namkoong

And between the screenings on lobbyists and legislative staffers, they had conversations with legislators about tanning beds.

This is the third year that legislation to restrict the use of tanning beds for anyone under 18 has been introduced at the General Assembly. A bill introduced in 2013 passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support. The bill was then sent to the Senate, where it died. At one point last summer, House lawmakers inserted the tanning bed language into an omnibus regulatory reform bill, where it also died.

“I wish there was a way to keep people from putting [tanning beds] into homes,” said skin cancer patient Nancy Autry, 61, who came to Raleigh from Mt. Olive on Wednesday to advocate for passage of the bill.

Autry had to have several large squamous cell tumors removed from her thigh in 2013 after years of tanning bed use.

“I first started going in my late 20s when the dermatologist recommended it for psoriasis, but he recommended two days a week, not six days for three months at a time,” she said. “I got to liking that tanned look and I abused it. I’d start in February and I’d go right on up to May.

“It was convenient. I could do it on my lunch hour and take a 20-minute nap,” she said.

And two of Autry’s three daughters also started tanning in their teens.

“They’d go with friends, and I never signed anything for them to go,” she said. Both girls were diagnosed with pre-melanoma in their 20s and each had multiple moles removed. Autry herself had another 14 spots frozen off last year.

“I know it all came from the tanning bed,” she said.

Emotional pull

Autry and the dermatologists spent the day Wednesday talking up the latest version of the tanning bed bill, House Bill 158. But this year, there’s an added emotional element: It’s been named for recently deceased Republican House member Jim Fulghum.

Rep. Jim Fulghum (R-Raleigh)

Fulghum died in July 2014, just before finishing his freshman term at the legislature, where he put his name on many health-related bills. The avuncular surgeon gained many friends in the short time he served in the legislature.

In the House health committee meeting Wednesday, Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Winston-Salem) spoke on behalf of this year’s version and asked all the bill’s supporters to stand. Almost everyone in the visitors’ section of the room rose to their feet.

“This bill is essentially the same bill that passed the House with bi-partisan support in our last session. It simply prohibits minors less than 18 to use indoor tanning beds,” Lambeth said. “Skin cancer is a major public health problem.”

He then spoke of Fulghum, “who most of you remember. His passion for this, wanting to leave a lasting legacy, is really the reason I put my name on this bill. It’s a great way to remember Jim, his passion for this particular issue.”

Fulghum’s family approved putting his name on the measure, according to Christine Weason of the American Cancer Society. Fulghum’s daughter and wife were given a posthumous award by the ACS and his wife, Mary Susan, sent a letter to every legislator encouraging them to pass the bill.

Susan Sanders, former president of the N.C. Dermatology Association, said she was hopeful about passage this year, but she’s still concerned about what the Senate will do.

After the 2013 version of the bill went to the Senate, it sat for more than a year and was never brought to a vote. At the time, advocates said enough votes for passage were probably there, but that Senate leadership was uninterested in moving the bill.

“There are a few people who are concerned about regulating small businesses … and telling parents what to do. They don’t want to have a ‘nanny state,’” Sanders said. “It’s a public health issue. It’s really a common sense bill.”

She said dermatologists throughout the state have been meeting with their legislators to gain grassroots support for HB 158.

This year, a companion bill to the House version has been introduced in the Senate. If Fulghum had lived, he likely could have been the sponsor, as he was campaigning for the Senate when he got sick and withdrew from the race. The seat he was running for went to Republican John Alexander (R-Raleigh), who ran in his stead.

Alexander is with a bevy of Republican co-sponsors signing onto this year’s Senate bill.

When asked if she thought it would pass this year, co-sponsor Sen. Tamara Barringer (R-Raleigh) said she believed it would.

“I hope so,” she said “It’s for the children.”

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