Guest opinion: Tanning by adolescents needs state regulation
As a physician, I take seriously the responsibility articulated in the modern Hippocratic oath: “I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to the cure.”
As a parent, I take equally seriously my obligation to protect children from potentially harmful, even fatal, choices whose consequences they likely do not fully understand or appreciate in their adolescence. And I expect that the laws that govern our society will support and reinforce my choices as a parent and my advice as a doctor.
For these reasons, I strongly support H 191, which is currently before the Idaho Legislature. The bill seeks to prohibit commercial indoor tanning for those 15 years of age and under, and would require in-person parental consent for those who are 16 and 17.
The scientific evidence of the link between indoor tanning and skin cancer is clear and overwhelming. An international team of researchers analyzed 19 different studies before concluding that indoor tanning increases the risks of melanoma, especially when indoor tanning occurs before age 35. UV radiation and UV tanning devices have been declared a known human carcinogen. The World Health Organization places the devices on its Group 1 list of cancer-causing agents, along with tobacco and asbestos. Indoor tanning also can cause burns to both the skin and eyes and it prematurely ages and wrinkles the skin.
The bottom line is that there is no such thing as a safe tan, or a safe indoor tan.
Despite having one of the highest melanoma death rates in the country, Idaho is currently one of only 14 states without regulations governing UV tanning devices by minors. Even more alarming are the statistics that show adolescent tanning rates in Idaho far exceed the national average, with 34 percent of 16- and 17-year-old young women using tanning devices each year.
Some who oppose this critical public health measure suggest a law is unnecessary because the industry polices itself. This claim has also been studied and soundly refuted. Tanning salon operators more often than not deny the risks associated with UV tanning devices when asked, and deny any links between such devices and increased risks of skin cancer. Salon employees have even asserted that “if tanning were actually dangerous, the government wouldn’t let us do it to you.”
You will likely hear arguments from H 191 opponents suggesting that measures to protect our children represent “government overreach.” As someone who believes in strict limits on the role of government, I’m also convinced that this bill enhances, rather than undermines, parental control and responsibility. Regulating tanning beds for minors sends a clear signal from officials who are charged with promoting public health that UV tanning devices are indeed dangerous. Making tobacco and alcohol use illegal for minors doesn’t supplant the role of parents; rather it supports parental decisions by making something that parents have proscribed for their children difficult (and illegal) to obtain.
We don’t ask families to stand and fight alone against tobacco companies. Similarly, we ask that Idaho’s Legislature stand with the medical community, united in protecting our young people from a behavior that is universally regarded as dangerous by those who are trained to understand and recognize such dangers.
Dr. Robert McFarland is a family physician in Coeur d’Alene and the president of the Idaho Medical Association.