Raleigh, N.C. — A major policy shift by big players in the indoor tanning industry could mean new life for a bill to ban teens under 18 from using tanning beds .
House Bill 18, the “Youth Skin Cancer Prevention Act," would raise the state's minimum age for tanning bed use from 14 to 18. In its current form, it makes no exceptions for parental permission or a medical prescription.
The bill passed the House in March 2013 with strong bipartisan support, 94-22. The vote came despite stiff opposition from the industry, which sent its own lobbyist, Joseph Levy, to testify to lawmakers that the link between ultraviolet radiation and skin cancer is unproven.
Levy's testimony was countered strongly by Dr. Kelly Nelson, director of the Duke University Melanoma Center, who told lawmakers, "There is no debate in the scientific community that UV exposure is related to skin cancer."
Nelson said dermatologists have seen a sharp upswing in melanoma in young women corresponding with more prevalent use of tanning beds.
The legislation has the support of the American Cancer Society, the North Carolina Medical Society, the North Carolina Pediatrics Society, the North Carolina Oncology Society, the North Carolina Dermatology Association and the state Child Fatality Task Force.
Still, when the bill reached the Senate last year, it was sent directly to the Rules Committee, a place where bills are commonly sent when they're unlikely to be acted upon.
In the interim, the American Suntanning Association, the trade group represented by Levy, has changed its position and now supports the proposed ban.
Levy told WRAL News that the association sent a letter last week supporting the bill to primary sponsor Rep. Mark Hollo, R-Alexander, and has supported similar bans in 11 other states this year.
"This [teen demographic] is less than 2 percent of business for tanning salons," Levy said. "Fighting for that 2 percent is clouding out the bigger picture."
The change was also prompted by "misstatements and overstatements" about the dangers of UV by bill supporters, he said.
"I think in states where this bill comes back and back and back again, like North Carolina, proponents feel the need to pile on to move the bill forward," he said.
Hollo said he's hopeful the lack of opposition will help the bill get through the Senate, but he said he hadn't yet heard from Senate leaders.
Asked why he thinks the industry changed its stance, Hollo replied, "I've no idea, but welcome it."
Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca said he hadn't heard that the industry had changed its position. He said the last time he discussed the bill with the Senate Republican caucus, it faced opposition.
"Parents should have the right to say what their children are and are not allowed to do," said Apodaca, R-Henderson.
Planet Beach, one of the largest indoor tanning franchises in the U.S., is also supporting the bill. The chain, with six locations in North Carolina, announced earlier this month it will no longer allow minors to use its tanning beds.
According to the N.C. Dermatology Association, more than a quarter of 17-year-olds in the U.S. have used indoor tanning at least once. There are more than 1,400 tanning beds registered in North Carolina – twice the number of McDonald's in the state.