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How Young is Too Young for Tanning?

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How Young is Too Young for Tanning?

March 12, 2013

Written by Michelle Alford for Scars1

With young girls hitting the tanning beds at increasingly early ages, government officials are considering banning teens from tanning salons. According to recent statistics from the Melanoma Foundation of New England, 15 percent of 15-year-olds and 35 percent of 17-year-olds are already using tanning beds. In addition, using tanning beds once a month before the age of 35 increases people’s risk of melanoma by 75 percent. Opponents of government intervention question whether it’s the government’s role to regulate citizen’s health choices, whereas proponents say that something needs to be done to prevent young people from making health choices that could have deadly consequences in the future.

Melanoma is one of the most common cancers, killing ten thousand people a year—that’s one person every hour. Children aren’t immune from melanoma either. Over 500 minors are diagnosed with melanoma every year. It’s also been shown that exposure to UV rays at young ages increases one’s chances of having melanoma as an adult.

Tanning beds are particularly dangerous because they expose tanners to significantly higher levels of UV rays than tanning outside does. Tanning beds put out up to 6 times the amount of radiation given off by the sun, and using a tanning bed for 20 minutes is equivalent to spending three hours at a beach with no protection.

California and Vermont have already passed laws that ban all minors from indoor tanning and 17 other states are considering similar legislation. Last week Oregon's House approved a bill that would prohibit minors from using tanning beds without a doctor's recommendation. In Massachusetts, the Senate passed a bill that would require 14- and 15-year-olds to get written consent from a doctor and for 16- and 17-year-olds to have their parents sign a consent form before they can tan at a salon. New York and Illinois, which already require parental consent for 14- to 17-year-olds, are considering passing laws that would completely ban indoor tanning for minors.

These bills face similar criticism as other health based legislation such as banning sodas over the 24oz and requiring happy meals to fulfill certain health guidelines before they can offer toys. Opponents argue that people should have the freedom to make their own health decisions—or that parents, not the government, should have the final say in their children’s well-being. Some also argue that this legislation negatively impacts small businesses.

Research has shown that excess use of tanning beds can cause significant health damage, particularly if started at a young age, but the debate still rages over who should have the final say on who can and can’t tan. Should the government stay out of the tanning debate, particularly if minors only want to tan once or twice for special occasions, or is it the government’s responsibility to protect young people from making health decisions that will negatively affect them later in life? The debate isn’t likely to end soon, but the results could have long-term ramifications. 

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Photo: Scarleth White

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