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A push to keep minors away from tanning beds

Are indoor tanning beds contributing to increasing rates of melanoma? Some experts and policy-makers believe so, and California State Senator Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) held a press conference in Los Angeles today to promote legislation that would ban minors in the state from using tanning booths. Lieu cites strong scientific support for his bill, including a recent study from researchers at Stanford, the Cancer Prevention Institute of California, and UCSF that shows the rate of melanoma has more than doubled among Californian girls and women aged 15 to 39 in high socioeconomic areas.

“This important study illustrates the dramatic rise in deadly melanoma among young Californian women,” Lieu said yesterday in a release. “Other scientific research has shown conclusively that use of tanning beds causes skin cancer, and the younger kids are when they start using tanning beds, the greater the cumulative damage to their skin and the more likely they are to die of skin cancer.”

The legislation, Senate Bill 746, was approved by the California legislature and has moved to Governor Jerry Brown’s office for final consideration. Susan Swetter, MD, a Stanford professor of dermatology and study co-author, is a strong supporter of the bill and shared with me a letter she wrote to the governor:

I urge you to sign California SB 746 into law to ban the use of indoor tanning devices by minors. I have directed Stanford’s melanoma program since 1996 and have seen an increasing number of young adults diagnosed with melanoma, many with a history of excessive ultraviolet (UV) exposure via natural sunlight and indoor tanning bed use (“artificial” UV radiation). A multitude of epidemiologic studies worldwide have confirmed that tanning bed use is directly linked to melanoma development, and a Food and Drug Administration review of the safety of indoor tanning conducted in March 2010 concluded that as much a 25% of all melanoma in the world may be caused by tanning bed exposure.

The indoor tanning industry preys on young women, and adolescent girls between the ages of 14-18 are the primary target of advertising campaigns. It is imperative that California join other states in restricting access to indoor tanning devices for minors as a key step in reducing skin cancer incidence and mortality. Please sign this critical public health legislation into law, to make California the first state in the nation to enact a ban on tanning for minors.

Governor Brown has until October 9 to act on SB 746.

Previously: Intense, rapid sun tanning may increase skin cancer risk
Photo by Evil Erin

Michael Claeys is a writer in the Stanford Cancer Institute.

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