A proposal to ban people under the age of 18 from using indoor tanning beds could get a House vote next week after its approval by a subcommittee Wednesday morning.
Current law bans children under 14 from using tanning beds except with a physician's prescription. Teens 14 to 17 need a parent's permission.
House Bill 18, the Youth Cancer Prevention Act, is a flat ban with no exemptions for permission or prescriptions.
Several members of the House Regulatory Reform Subcommittee on Business and Labor expressed reservations about the ban but said they were persuaded to support it because of the weight of scientific evidence in its favor.
"This was a bill I was not excited to vote on, supporting freedom," said Rep. Susan Martin, R-Wilson. "But looking at all the data, it clearly is a health concern and growing."
Rep. Brian Brown, R-Pitt, said he was backing the ban because of a friend who's battling skin cancer at the age of 32. "It's clearly defined that she received that from a tanning bed. There's no other explanation for it," he said.
But opponent Rep. Marilyn Avila, R-Wake, said teens who can no longer use tanning beds will instead lie out in the sun without supervision. "I firmly believe that doing this is going to increase skin cancer because there's nobody looking after that child, there's nobody caring about that child," she said.
Avila said the ban takes away parents' rights to make decisions for their children. "We are not a nanny state."
Rep. Bert Jones, R-Rockingham, disagreed. "If you follow that line of thinking, we probably shouldn't have any laws in this state banning minors from going out and purchasing cigarettes," he responded. "But we do have laws that say a minor cannot go out and buy cigarettes because of the health concerns."
Indoor tanning industry spokesman Joseph Levy told the committee the state's current rules are adequate. He insisted that the science linking ultraviolet radiation to melanoma "is not straightforward" and said he fully expected the ban would "increase the incidence of sunburns."
But North Carolina Dermatologists' lobbyist Rob Lamme derided Levy's skepticism, saying the research linking UV rays and skin cancer is "literally about 3 feet high these days" and is accepted by virtually every medical group in the state.
Lamme also assured the committee that banning teens from tanning beds won't put tanning salons out of business. In fact, he said, the industry is already seeing a shift from tanning beds to spray-on tans, which have a higher profit margin for salons.
"This bill is going to speed up a process that's already occurring in this industry," he said. "These kids will migrate their dollars away from indoor tanning – they're already doing that – and into spray tans."
The bill won approval easily after about 20 minutes of debate. Only two members voted against it: Avila and Rep. Tim Moffitt, R-Buncombe.