Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Washington law bans kids, teens from tanning beds

Tanning beds in Washington are now for adults only.

A state law that took effect in June prohibits people younger than 18 from using ultraviolet tanning devices such as tanning booths and beds and sunlamps without a doctor’s prescription. The law aims to protect children from the harmful effects of UV radiation.

Tanners must provide government ID to prove their age, and salon owners face fines as high as $250 for each violation.

It’s up to local police agencies to enforce the law, said a spokeswoman for Sen. Curtis King’s office. King sponsored the bill behind the law, which didn’t include money to pay for enforcement. (The Department of Health has no authority to inspect or enforce laws related to UV devices, spokesman Donn Moyer said.)

Most salon owners “get that underage tanning isn’t healthy” and are willing to comply, said the spokeswoman for King’s office, who didn’t want to be named. The threat of legal action or “bad press” is a further deterrent from allowing underage indoor tanning, she said.

“(Police are) not going to be going out and doing active surveillance and busting tanning beds or anything that silly,” she said. “But if someone had a complaint, like if my 15-year-old daughter went against my wishes and went to a tanning salon, I could potentially call police. … They could come and do an investigation and write something up.”

Washington joins 10 other states in banning the use of UV tanning devices by anyone younger than 18, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Such legislation has support from national organizations such as the American Academy of Dermatology and the Skin Cancer Foundation. According to the skin cancer organization, people who start tanning before they’re 35 raise their risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, by close to 75 percent.

“There’s the libertarian side of me that likes to live in North Idaho, and I think ‘Oh, gosh, do I really need one more person telling me not to do something?’ ” said Dr. Benjamin Ringger, of North Idaho Dermatology. “But I do see a lot of kids who do crazy things and really tan themselves and then I see 22-year-old moms who are pregnant for the first time and they get diagnosed with melanoma. That’s just devastating.”

John Overstreet, executive director of the Indoor Tanning Association, said his group supports parental-consent requirements for people younger than 18 but opposes laws banning them from indoor tanning.

“We believe that decisions about raising children – what children do and don’t do – are best left to parents, not government,” Overstreet said. The Virginia-based association has about 400 members from all segments of the tanning industry, including manufacturers of equipment and lotions along with retail salons, he said.

The laws hurt an already struggling industry, Overstreet said, facing a 10 percent federal tax on tanning services imposed in 2010 and a general reduction in business related to the recession.

Ileia Perry said she allowed minors to tan at her Hillyard salon, Tropical Tan, before the state law took effect. But she said they didn’t represent a significant part of her business.

“I’m not seeing it impact my business hardly at all,” Perry said.

Perry said she urges adult customers to follow exposure recommendations set by tanning bed manufacturers and to wear eye protection. She also urges them to wear sunscreen outside, because they’ve probably reached their UV limit in the salon.

Some industry organizations have said it’s not in minors’ best interest to tan at salons, Perry said, and she agrees: “They really just don’t understand the ramifications of overexposure.”

What does bother her: The trouble she’s had finding answers to her questions about the new law she’s supposed to follow. After reading about it in the media, she read the law’s text online and called state offices in Olympia. Along with enforcement questions, she wondered whether she’s required to ask for a repeat customer’s ID once or every time they entered her salon.

“I’ve received no communication from Washington state whatsoever,” she said.