According to a recent press release by DermaNetwork.org, more than 20 states currently have legislation pending about restricting tanning bed usage. Of these states, two - Arkansas and Mississippi - signed into law new legislation to restrict access for minors under 14 to tanning salons in March of 2009, and one - Montana - failed to get such legislation passed in May 2009.
Tanning beds do in fact pose a substantial risk to minors, even more so than to adults. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, an estimated 80 percent of sun damage occurs before age 18. Given the fact that the average tanning bed (or other artificial UV light source) provides approximately three times the DNA-damaging long-wavelength UVA rays ( 192.1 W/m2on average ) than the sun, it is easy to see why use of tanning beds in youth is particularly alarming. In addition, this 2005 study in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, & Prevention confirms that use of tanning beds prior to age 18 significantly increases a patient’s risk of malignant melanoma later in life. In the study, it was confirmed that both earlier use of tanning beds and regular use of tanning beds throughout youth substantially increased cancer risk. With approximately 10,500 American lives lost to skin cancer each year, it is no wonder that restrictive legislation looks so promising.
Yet the legislation may fall flat if parents and guardians do not recognize the risk of using tanning beds themselves. According to a 2002 study inPediatrics, youth (age 11-18) were significantly more likely to use artificial UV light sources for tanning if their parent/guardian did so, with 30% of the youth with artificially tanning parents/guardians doing so themselves. (Other factors that make a young patient more likely to use tanning beds include female gender, age 15-18 as opposed to 11-14, and the belief that tanned skin is more attractive).
A second problem with the impending legislation is the fact that most youth using tanning beds are in the 15-18 range, whereas the legislation is primarily targeting children 14 and under. In fact, according to this 2002 study inPediatrics amongst 10000 youths using tanning beds, tanning bed use increased from 7% among 14-year-old girls to 16% by age 15, and more than doubled again to 35% by age 17. Although earlier exposure does correlate to higher risk of malignant melanoma later in life, it is still haunting that legislation restricting tanning bed use under age 14 will ultimately not save as many lives as legislation affecting the 14-17 age range.
Editor’s Note: This entry was entered on June 15, 2009 in the “Make a Difference” Blog Contest, sponsored by Dermanetwork.org. The contest awards either a donation to the Melanoma Research Fund or a gift card to the winning blogger. I decided to enter the contest because I thought the topic was relevant to my readers’ interests, as well as for the opportunity. While not necessary, I wanted to disclose that this entry was entered in a contest in order to maintain the trust of my readers. -NZ