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Cancer Society seeks tan ban for 18 and under

gweggyphoto via Flickr

The American Cancer Society and other health groups are pressing for a law in New York state that would ban anyone under the age of 18 from using a tanning salon. They argue the growing risk of cancer to young people is too great a threat to ignore.

Supporters of the law cite statistics that show all forms of skin cancer, and particularly melanoma, which can sometimes result in death, are on the rise among young people.

Russ Sciandra , with the American Cancer Society, says the primary source of ultra violet radiation believed to contribute to the cancers is from the sun, the second is tanning booths. He says there’s evidence that young people, especially young women who frequent tanning beds, are getting cancer more often in what’s become a "deadly habit."

“We can’t really do very much about the sun, but it is within the power of the legislature to control tanning booths,” said Sciandra.

Dermatologist Dr. Judith Mysliborksi , who is immediate past president of the state Dermatological Society, says there’s a “weight of scientific evidence” that shows that salon tanning raises the risk of people being diagnosed with the three main types of skin cancer.  She says 35 percent of all teenage girls between the ages of 14 and 17 now frequent tanning salons.

“Melanoma is increasing faster among young women than in young men,” Mysliborksi said. “And the major difference in behavior is that young women are more likely to use indoor tanning beds.”

She says another study finds that using a tanning bed before the age of 30 increases the risk of melanoma by 75 percent.

Dr. Charles Weissman, an oncologist who is also chief medical officer with the Cancer Society, says when he first began his practice in the early 1980s he saw very few instances of the deadliest form of skin cancer. Now, he says,  that’s changed. He says he sees many more cases, and he believes it’s partly the result of over use of tanning beds.

“It’s not unusual for me now to see people coming in their late 20s early 30s,” Weissman said. “Undoubtedly due to sun exposure as well as the use of tanning salons.”

Current state law bans children under the age of 14 from using tanning beds, and requires that those under 18 get a signed permission slip from their parents. Sciandra, with the Cancer Society equates some of the dangers of tanning salons with the harmful impacts of smoking.

“We don’t prohibit tobacco,” he said. “But we don’t allow them to sell it to kids under 18, even if they have a note from their mother, unlike tanning booths.”

And he says, just like with smoking, if younger people do not take up the habit of tanning in their teens, they are less likely to seek it out later in life.

The measure has passed the state Assembly but is stalled in the state Senate, though it has a majority party Republican sponsor, Senator Charles Fuschillo of Long Island.

The Indoor Tanning Association, a national group that represents tanning salon owners, says in a statement, that laws that would let the government restrict teen tanning are misguided, and that it should be up to parents to make those decisions with their children. They argue that there are health benefits to moderate exposure to ultra violet light generated from the tanning lamps, and say teens are more at risk if they instead choose unsupervised sunbathing outdoors, which is more likely to lead to a sunburn.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.