Last week, Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that will make California the first state to prohibit all minors from using commercial ultraviolet tanning beds. The anti-skin cancer bill was championed by California State Senator Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), who recently answered a few questions for Scope.
How did you become involved in the indoor tanning issue?
I have always been concerned about public health. My brother-in-law is a doctor and my brother is a radiologist (he did his residency at Stanford). The correlation between tanning and skin cancer rates motivated me to introduce the same bill in 2007, but it failed. Since 2007, however, the number of studies showing the lethality of indoor tanning beds has continued to grow, even supporting direct causation between indoor UV tanning and cancer. That's why numerous health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommended that government ban tanning beds for everyone under 18.
Did any Stanford studies or other medical research aid in the enactment of this law?
Absolutely! The recent study on rising skin cancer incidence among young Californian women was very helpful, as were the letters that Stanford researchers wrote to Governor Brown. The study from Stanford researchers and collaborators helped show that skin cancer was not just an abstract problem, but a real and rising health concern in California.
Who is punished, and what are the penalties, if minors use tanning beds after January 1, 1012?
If there are violations, SB 746 imposes penalties on tanning salons, not consumers. Salons that violate the law will be subject to a fine of up to $2,500 per day of violation. If the violations are excessive, the punishment can rise to a criminal misdemeanor.
How do you answer those who say that the law will hurt small businesses?
The evidence shows that teens will switch to spray tanning, which is not known to have any harmful effects. Howard County, Maryland was the first county to implement a ban on minors, and they claim there was no fiscal harm to tanning salons because the consumers simply switched to spray tanning, which most salons already offer.
Moreover, UV tanning beds have been labeled as highly carcinogenic by medical organizations, the FDA, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the World Health Organization. WHO labeled tanning beds a ‘Level 1’ carcinogen in 2009 - the same as cigarettes. We don't allow minors to legally smoke cigarettes, and for the same reason I believe we should not allow minors to access dangerous tanning beds.
Is there anything you learned at Stanford (class of ’91, computer science and political science) that helps you as a state senator?
I took a class from Professor Condoleezza Rice called the Role of the Military in Politics. It was the best class I ever took at Stanford, and it still shapes my views to this day. (I served on active duty in the Air Force, and remain in the Reserves.) I loved Stanford. The diversity, the incredible array of classes, and the amazing professors and students make Stanford a unique and wonderful place. I feel immensely lucky to have been able to attend Stanford.
Michael Claeys is a writer in the Stanford Cancer Institute.