Raleigh, N.C. — Teens under the age of 18 would no longer be allowed to use indoor tanning beds under a bill that passed the state House Wednesday.
Current law bans children under 14 from using indoor tanning beds but allows 14- to 17-year-olds to use them with a parent's written permission. House Bill 18 would remove that exception, instituting a full ban for anyone under 18.
Lawmakers say the change is needed because a growing body of scientific evidence shows tanning beds dramatically increase the risk for deadly melanoma and other skin cancers.
Sponsor Rep. Mark Hollo, R-Alexander, called it a "public safety bill." He cited "overwhelming evidence" that ultraviolet radiation in general, and tanning beds in particular, cause skin cancer.
Hollo said tanning bed radiation can be 15 times stronger than natural sunlight, and the earlier the exposure, the higher the cumulative risk. He said studies clearly show that people who use tanning beds before the age of 35 have a 75 percent greater chance of skin cancer.
Some conservative Republicans expressed reservations about the ban.
"Here we go again, telling people what decisions they can make for their kids," said Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus. "I’m very nervous anytime the government starts making decisions for its citizens."
Rep. Marilyn Avila, R-Wake, said drowning kills more young people than skin cancer. "I haven’t seen anyone come to us and ask for a bill that will ban kids' use of swimming pools or other bodies of water," she said.
Avila insisted the link between ultraviolet radiation to skin cancer is not conclusive and said the decision should be left up to the parents.
"Do we allow parental consent for kids at 15 to smoke or drink alcohol?" responded Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake. "No, because the risks are so much greater than the benefits."
“This is more dangerous than a lot of the other stuff we prohibit," Stam said of indoor tanning. "It has very little benefit, a lot of risks and a reasonable properly informed parent would not allow their child to undergo this.”
Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, said teenagers can still get spray tans for the same effect without the cancer risk.
The measure passed the House on a bipartisan vote, 94-22. It now goes to the Senate.