LEWISTOWN - While high schoolers are scheduling their tanning appointments for the prom and summer seasons, state legislators are working through a bill that would prohibit people younger than 18 from using an indoor tanning bed.
Introduced in March, the bill is intended to limit youth exposure to cancer-causing UV rays found in tanning beds. More than 30 states have already enacted similar laws, however, Pennsylvania's tanning industry remains unregulated at this time.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, teens, accounting for 2.3 million tanning appointments per year, experience an increased risk of melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer, each time they use a tanning bed.
"Indoor tanning is dangerous at any age, but the practice, especially popular in the younger generation, causes one in every 20 melanoma cases," said Ninad Pendharkar, dermatologist at Geisinger-Scenery Park. "Tanning can also lead to premature skin aging, eye damage and other forms of cancer."
The general misconception, Pendharkar said, is that a tanning bed is safer than tanning outdoors because the bed's rays are not as dangerous as the sun's. However, that's not the case, he said.
"When you're outside, you have clothes, shade, trees and clouds to protect from direct exposure," Pendharkar said. "But in a tanning bed, your body is absorbing pure UV rays, which are 10 to 15 times more intense than the sun's rays."
Basically, if a body is exposed to enough UV to trigger a tan, the body is also experiencing DNA damage, said Dr. Ricardo Carter, oncologist with Lewistown Hospital. Even after the first tanning appointment, the possibility of melanoma increases by 75 percent in young people.
"I believe the issue of tanning beds is more severe than most people realize," Carter said. "I think it's important that our legislators focus on these issues as they are public health problems and we have to protect our young people ... This is serious and we should not overlook it."
Michelle Hackenberry, owner of Salon Works and Electrolysis by Michelle, in McVeytown, has used an under 16 rule for tanning at her establishment since it opened. People younger than 18 represent roughly 30 percent of her customer base.
"I can't say that I completely disagree with the legislation because I don't allow anyone younger than 16 to use my tanning bed," Hackenberry said. "Although I think limiting use for people older than 16 is a little iffy."
Various forms of tanning regulation and legislation have been floating around forever, said Larry Moore, owner of Lewistown Health and Fitness. Limiting access to indoor tanning is completely unnecessary, he said.
"The issues addressed by the legislation have been topics of consistent and ongoing argument between dermatologists and the tanning industry for years," Moore said. "It should really be up to the parents, not the government, about what kids do at that age."
Tanning can be safe, at any age, if the business offering the services has a knowledgeable and experienced background, Moore said. As long as young customers don't get a severe burn, they can use tanning beds like any other adult, he said.
Moore offers nine tanning beds at his establishment and estimates that people younger than 18 make up 10 percent of his customer base.
The bill has been assigned to the House Committee on Health for discussion. A summary of the bill as well as the full document is available at www.house.state.pa.us when searching HB977. For more information about the risks of indoor tanning, visit www.aad.org.
The legislation would also require indoor tanning facilities to obtain a certificate of registration to operate through the Department of Health, with an opportunity for licensure after two years. The Department of Health would hold jurisdiction over tanning facilities with penalties, fines and possible loss of registration or licensure.