Every day, more than 1 million Americans, including many teenagers, use tanning salons. In recent years, the numbers have continued to rise despite the known risks, which include premature aging, age spots, wrinkles, and most significantly, skin cancer.
Many teens believe that indoor tanning is safer than sunbathing. In fact, there is no such thing as a "safe tan": A tan from any ultraviolet (U.V.) source is the skin's response to injury. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that U.V. radiation, whether from the sun or from artificial sources such as tanning beds, is known to cause cancer.
More than 1 million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year. According to a recent study, individuals who used tanning beds before age 35 have a 75 percent higher risk of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.
The World Health Organization wants to prohibit anyone 18 and under from indoor tanning facilities. There are, however, no federal laws in the United States restricting youth access to tanning beds, and only half the states have their own restrictions.
Just as we have laws protecting teens from engaging in unhealthy, habit-forming behaviors involving, for example, tobacco and alcohol, we should have laws restricting their use of indoor tanning.
We encourage federal and state legislators to pass indoor tanning regulations that ensure the health and safety of teens. Such regulations have the potential to save thousands of lives every year from skin cancer.
Diane R. Baker, M.D.
President, American Academy of Dermatology
Last spring, North Dakota enacted a very restrictive law that prohibits anyone younger than 14 from using tanning salons at all, and requires 14- to 17-year-olds to have a notarized permission slip from a parent or guardian to use tanning facilities.
I oppose this new law because restricting teenagers' access to tanning salons is an unreasonable level of government interference in the lives of young people.
In addition, the debate over the tanning law raises a larger issue for me: Should the government be monitoring what citizens do on a daily basis?
We need to step back and take a look at the big picture: I believe that the more freedoms and rights we take away from our youth, the more defiant and rebellious they will become in response.
The government's knee-jerk reaction to every problem seems to be to regulate more, increase fines, or use punishment as the answer to unwanted behavior.
I believe education is a better approach than regulation in this instance. If we educate young people about the potential dangers of tanning, I believe they will make smart, informed decisions for themselves.
Changing the law does not change the perceptions of young people. As long as teenagers believe that tanning makes them look more attractive, and as long as they're unaware of the potential health risks, they'll continue to find a way to use tanning salons, regardless of the law.
That's why I think that state laws that restrict teens' access to tanning facilities are the wrong approach.
Senator Nick Hacker
North Dakota State Senate