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

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On Wednesday, members of the Senate approved the measure by a 48-2 vote. It now goes to Gov. Pat McCrory for his signature.

By Rose Hoban

Legislative committee meetings usually aren’t emotional; they usually don’t involve standing ovations. But Tuesday morning’s meeting of the Senate Health Care Committee featured those things, along with passage of a bill that’s been held up in the Senate for several years.

With his widow in the room, the committee green-lighted a bill named for the late Rep. Jim Fulghum, who died in the summer of 2014 after a sudden, quick battle with late stage cancer.

The Jim Fulghum Teen Skin Cancer Prevention Act would keep teens under the age of 18 from using tanning beds ahead of proms and trips to the beach.

“I want to thank you for this vote of confidence,” said Mary Susan Fulghum, a retired obstetrician/gynecologist and Rep. Fulghum’s widow.

“Jim supported the bill before you today because he understood … the devastating impact skin cancer is having on young people, especially young women,” she said.

She noted the “overwhelming amount” of evidence linking even modest use of tanning beds to increased skin cancer incidence.

“He saw this bill as a way to build on the partnership between government and parents to make sure children have the best opportunity possible to become healthy, productive, responsible adults,” she said, before receiving a standing ovation from legislators and people in the audience.

Currently, anyone under the age of 18 has to have parental permission to use the devices, but many kids get around the restrictions. And research has revealed that some young women even go to tanning salons with their mothers.

After the meeting, Mary Sue Fulghum noted that as a gynecologist she treated many young women who used tanning beds and that she encouraged her late husband’s involvement in the bill.

Long history

Sen. Stan Bingham (R-Denton) noted during the committee meeting that former Sen. Bill Purcell (D-Laurinburg) first introduced bills to limit tanning bed use by young people in 2009. Similar bills have been introduced in each biennial session since.

In 2013, the bill was reintroduced and received enthusiastic support from Fulghum, who was a freshman representative at the time. Fulghum co-sponsored the bill and shepherded it through the House, only to see it languish in the Senate, which did not consider the bill for more than a year.

House members then inserted language forbidding tanning bed use by teens into an omnibus regulatory reform bill, which again saw no movement from the Senate.

Mary Susan Fulghum thanks members of the Senate Health Care Committee for approving the Jim Fulghum Teen Cancer Prevention Act on Tuesday. Photo credit: Rose Hoban

The bill was consistently opposed by trade associations representing tanning salons.

During the committee meeting Tuesday morning, Michael Hauser from the Indoor Tanning Association said the bill “would regulate a large number of these tanning salons out of business.”

In past years, arguments from the indoor-tanning industry seemed to carry some weight. But this year, the industry’s entreaties did not move legislators.

On Tuesday, Sen. Tommy Tucker (R-Waxhaw) noted that when his wife gave him a gift pedicure at a local salon, he witnessed girls getting into tanning beds and “literally come out of those tanning booths looking like lobsters.”

Tucker described himself as an “involved parent,” yet did not understand what tanning beds could do until learning about the bill at the legislature.

“I did not realize it was 14 times stronger than ultraviolet rays we have in the sun. I did not realize that teens and young adults who begin tanning before the age of 35 have a 59 percent higher chance of getting skin cancer,” said Tucker.

“I cannot tell you since this bill’s been introduced the number of young women who have come forward, even on the lobbyist staff here,” he said.

The bill passed the House last week, and on Tuesday the Senate Health Care Committee unanimously approved it. Now it’s on its way to the Senate floor.

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