Maryland Drops the Ball on Teen Access to Tanning Beds




As this Coppertone ad shows, the US has had a long love affair with the tan.  But at the turn of the 21st century,  cases of melanoma, the most deadly skin cancer, were increasing at an alarming rate, and the concurrent increase in the use of tanning beds suggested a connection.  In July 2009, the International Agency for Research on Cancer reported strong  scientific evidence that tanning beds are “carcinogenic to humans,” and that use of tanning beds before age 30 increases melanoma risk by 75%.  The risk posed to young users of tanning beds was apparent.

Just months after the IARC report was released, the Board of Health in Howard County, Maryland set a US precedent by banning access to tanning beds for individuals under 18.   Soon California enacted a statewide ban on minors’ use of tanning beds,  the American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy statement recommending that pediatricians  “strongly discourage” adolescents from using indoor tanning, and Vermont, New Jersey, Nevada, Texas, Oregon, and Illinois passed bans on minor’s access to tanning beds. Meanwhile, evidence was accumulating that tanning bed use increases throughout high school, peaking at age 18.

Image(Photo: Rob Engelhardt for USA TODAY)

Almost 4 years after Howard County’s groundbreaking act, the State of Maryland has not followed its lead.  In spite of urging by  the Maryland State Medical Society, the State Department of Health and Mental Hygiene does not support a ban on tanning devices for minors.   In March, a bill to ban minors’ access to tanning beds died in the Maryland Senate Finance committee.

Parents, physicians, and melanoma survivors who believe that Maryland should not forget the example set by Howard County must contact their state legislators to urge passage of a bill to prevent minors’ use of tanning beds in the 2014 session.


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9 Responses to “Maryland Drops the Ball on Teen Access to Tanning Beds”

  1. amishra2013 Says:

    It is surprising that even with relevant scientific evidence available regarding the adverse effects of tanning, the legislature would not take the preventive initiative to ban the use of tanning bed for minors.

  2. 29% of high school girls use tanning beds - Syndicated News Services Says:

    […] Maryland Drops the Ball on Teen Access to Tanning Beds […]

  3. hekmatov Says:

    Interesting post. I wonder what’s the reason behind the hesitance to enact such a proposition. Do you think it’s the lack of awareness by the legislators? Or do you think some other lobbying efforts are hindering the process? For example, an association for health spas that offer indoor tanning services may be interested in stopping such a bill, given that it will impact their revenues. I read the link to the MMG article, and it sounds like the latter scenario is the case here.
    I remember a statement once made by a speaker on a similar topic, i don’t remember his name, but his message was really strong, his statement was “the US economy is set up in a way that if we all get cancer today, this is great news for business”. I’m not suggesting that the legislators purposefully want the children to get skin cancer, but perhaps this bill should be brought up to a committee that is not finance oriented such as the one that let the bill die. I’m not very familiar with the judicial process in the states, but that would be a good option if available.

  4. nlullman Says:

    Thanks for the post. Tanning is a major problem in the US, especially among teens, despite what we know about the risks. In addition to the legislation catching up to science and limiting the use of tanning beds through laws, physicians also should play a role in discouraging the use of tanning beds among their patients. Often this conversation needs to come from the pediatrician, but most pediatricians are not used to having to talk about these sorts of issues with their young patients. Unfortunately, many girls today who use indoor tanning beds start in high school, with a significant amount at the age of just 16. In fact, 70 percent of tanning salon patrons are Caucasian girls and women, primarily aged 16 to 29 years.
    Pushing the legislation to make indoor tanning use by minors less accessible needs to be mirrored by a message from their physicians discouraging this behavior and discussing the serious risks associated with it.

  5. skim276 Says:

    I also find this topic very interesting since I personally never understood the attraction in indoor tanning. Regardless, I agree with the previous comments that pushing this policy change is being faced by a large industry and avid lobbying activities against the bill and that providers should more actively provide education on the risks.
    I wonder if the concern surrounding individual rights and autonomy has come up in debate on whether teenage tanning should be banned. I think a lot of public health policy changes are challenged by opinions that view these policies paternalistic and infringing on individual rights. If the teenager understands the risks associated with tanning and has permission from his or her parents, it could be argued that this individual should have the freedom to tan his or her skin. I am also curious if the 10% tax excised on underage tanning has had any impact on decreasing the rates.

  6. annebert623 Says:

    The Indoor Tanning Association, which represents tanning salon owners as well as manufacturers of tanning beds, always has representatives at hearings on limiting access to tanning beds. Yes, they always bring up the autonomy argument and the nanny state argument, as well as spurious arguments that a base tan protects against later sunburn or that tanning beds are a great way of getting needed vitamin D.

    I don’t think it matters that the Senate committee was finance – it only matters that Senators have to fundraise almost continuously to keep their jobs, as do all elected officials in the US. The Howard County Board of Health are all volunteers…

  7. mpatg Says:

    Thank you for a very interesting post. It is, unfortunately, not surprising that the state of Maryland has yet to act on this particular issue. We have entered a time where research that is seemingly obvious is not necessarily appreciated within our political system. What matters is not the truth, but rather a) what the constituent believes is true; and b) the data and “context” provided by major donors during intimate meetings.

    With this as a current political reality, I wonder what is the best way to engage the consumer to at least make a decision fully understanding the health risk? One could compare this issue to consumer health education regarding tobacco. A study by Hammond et al. showed that “large, graphic warnings on cigarette packages are an effective means of increasing health knowledge among smokers [and] may also help to reduce the disparities in health knowledge by providing low-income smokers with regular access to health information.” What will be the comparable educational vehicle for indoor tanning?

    Hammond, D, et al., “Text and graphic warnings on cigarette packages: Findings from the international tobacco control four country study,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 32(3):202-9, 2007.

  8. martinljohnson1 Says:

    Maybe the legislature needs some encouragement in the form of patient testimonials and some graphic photographs showing the effects of melanoma, other forms of skin cancer and (at a a superficial level) premature photo-aging. As a plastic surgeon for 30 years in a state with the highest skin cancer rate in the country, I believe strongly that this issue should be revisited. The medical societies representing pediatrics, dermatology and plastic surgery in Maryland should be pressing this bill.

  9. emilybeaudoin Says:

    This is a very interesting post. The fact that the literature has garnered so much evidence on the risk of melanoma and there still has been no change in legislation is concerning. Could this represent an issue of competing interests where there are only so many public health dollars for those who set and enact legislation and policy?

    The issue of autonomy is also very interesting, as a minor who shows that they understand the risks may be viewed as having capacity to consent (though a I am not sure what the laws around consent for minors are in the state of Maryland).

    Thanks for the post.

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