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It's Time to Dim the Lights on Indoor Tanning

Roy Jensen, MD

October 07, 2019

The number of skin cancer cases in the state of Kansas is growing at an alarming rate. Individuals who use indoor tanning devices before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma – the most deadly type of skin cancer – by 59%. An estimated 820 new melanoma cases are expected in Kansas in 2016, and about 100 Kansans will die from melanoma this year.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), the advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society, advocates for public policies that will help reduce the risk of skin cancer, including those that prohibit the use of indoor tanning devices among minors. ACS CAN supports HB 2369, prohibiting minors from using indoor tanning devices.

Indoor tanning causes cancer

The World Health Organization has classified UV-emitting indoor tanning devices with the highest level of cancer risk “carcinogenic to humans,” like tobacco and asbestos. Young people are especially susceptible to damage from indoor tanning devices. Kansans agree: Children under the age of 18 should be prohibited from using indoor tanning facilities.

The leading cause of cancer

Skin cancer is the No. 1 cause of cancer in the United States, with melanoma being one of the most common cancers diagnosed among young adults. In fact, in the last 30 years, the number of Americans who have had skin cancer is estimated to be higher than the number for all other cancers combined.

Today, millions of people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year. About 2% of these, or 70,000 cases, are melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. The cost of skin cancer is not cheap, with totals exceeding $8 billion each year – $3.3 billion of that total is for melanoma treatment.

It is estimated that more than 400,000 skin cancer cases in the United States are attributed to indoor tanning each year.

  • 245,000 basal cell carcinomas
  • 168,000 squamous cell carcinomas
  • 6,000 melanomas

UV radiation from indoor tanning and other sources is cumulative over time. The earlier a person starts tanning, the greater the risk of getting melanoma and other skin cancers later in life.

You’d think that with all these facts about skin cancer, our youth would avoid indoor tanning. But that is unfortunately not the case. There are several factors that increase youth tanning, including:

  • Youth get incorrect and false information from the indoor tanning industry about the risks of tanning.
  • A 2012 congressional committee report showed that tanning salons often deny the risks of tanning and indicate it is beneficial to a young person’s health.
  • Indoor tanning salons do not always follow recommended guidelines. For instance, 71% of tanning salons would allow a teen to tan more often than the 3 times per week recommended by the federal government.

A 2011 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found many factors that increase tanning among younger people. Youth were more likely to use a tanning device if they:

  • Believed people with a tan look more attractive (80% more likely)
  • Believed that their parents allowed them to use indoor tanning (80% more likely)
  • Had a parent who used indoor tanning (70% more likely)
  • Noticed advertisements for indoor tanning (70% more likely)

Support HB 2369

Because the science demonstrates that tanning devices cause cancer and that age restrictions can be effective at reducing teen tanning rates, ACS CAN supports HB 2369 to prohibit minors under the age of 18 from using indoor tanning devices, without any exceptions.

To date, 8 states have passed similar comprehensive legislation prohibiting the use of tanning devices by minors, without exception, to protect their state’s youth. Similar age restrictions on harmful substances and services have been placed on tobacco products and alcohol. Restricting access to indoor tanning bed use based on age is no different.

Given what is known about the harmful effects of UV radiation from indoor tanning devices, especially among youth, Kansas should pass HB 2369 prohibiting minors from using indoor tanning devices.

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