Lawmakers: Please ignore the skin-radiation lobby

The News TribuneMarch 7, 2013 

It didn’t seem possible that anyone could match the cynical cancer-peddling of tobacco companies. But the tanning industry has been giving them a run for the money.

The tanning salon lobby has long fought legislation efforts to bar minors from their tanning beds. The reason is obvious: Teenage girls spend a lot of money in those salons.

The industry’s umbrella group, the Indoor Tanning Association, is notorious for false claims about the virtues of artificial tanning. In 2010, the Federal Trade Commission ordered it to stop. Now a similar organization – the American Suntanning Association – has suddenly materialized.

Though it represents the same interests, it’s not the same outfit – so it isn’t subject to the FTC’s order. Sure enough, the American Suntanning Association’s lobbyists have been popping up in state capitals, arguing that salons are safe for minors and fighting bills that would keep them out.

When the Washington State Senate held a hearing on such a ban last month, the association showed up to quarrel with the American Cancer Society and the Washington Dermatology Association.

It’s time lawmakers started ignoring these people. All tanning salons should be off limits to youths, just like taverns. Adults are another story, but adolescents should be protected from long-term risks many of them are too young to comprehend.

The industry makes many pseudo-scientific claims about artificial tanning. It provides vitamin D, goes one talking point. It’s a healthier alternative to the sun, goes another.

The reality is that there are far safer ways to get vitamin D – from supplements, for example – and there’s nothing healthy about tanning in general.

Credible health organizations – the American Academy of Pediatrics, for example – say there’s no upside to blasting a teenager’s skin with ultraviolet radiation.

Indoor tanning is an established cause of skin cancer; the only disagreement comes from the industry itself. Regular use of tanning beds greatly increases the likelihood of deadly melanoma. It can also do profound damage to skin, leading to severe and premature wrinkling.

The industry touts indoor tanning as protection against sunburn. In reality, the production of dark pigment is the skin’s response to damage it has already suffered from radiation. Tanning is triggered by the same biochemical processes involved in repairing DNA mutated by ultraviolet light.

If adults want to frequent salons, that’s their business. But adolescents often need protection from their own bad judgment, especially when the risks include death. We try to keep them away from cigarettes; for exactly the same reasons, the Legislature should keep them away from tanning beds.

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