Teen tanning ban stalls over dueling data

Posted February 19, 2013
Updated February 20, 2013

Tanning bed, tanning salon

— A proposal to keep North Carolina teens out of tanning beds was delayed Tuesday in the House Health Committee.

Rep. Mark Hollo, R-Alexander, is sponsor of House Bill 18, the “Youth Skin Cancer Prevention Act." It would raise the state's minimum age for using an indoor tanning bed from 14 to 18, unless the teen has a note from a medical professional.

"It’s a public health bill. It’s a public safety bill," Hollo told the committee, citing a rise in the incidence of skin cancer since 2000. "Exposure is cumulative over your lifetime. The earlier the exposure, the greater your risk of skin cancer."  

The bill has the backing of the American Cancer Society, the North Carolina Medical Society, the North Carolina Pediatrics Society, the North Carolina Oncology Society, the North Carolina Dermatologists and the Child Fatality Task Force, which recommended the legislation.

Duke University Melanoma Center Director Dr. Kelly Nelson delivered a presentation with some graphic photographs of skin cancer – especially melanoma – among young patients who used tanning beds as teenagers. 

"This is really why I feel so strongly about the importance of this bill – because patients die from melanoma. Patients who are entirely too young to die die from melanoma," she told the committee.

"There is no debate in the scientific community that UV exposure is related to skin cancer," Nelson said, noting that a sharp uptick in cases of melanoma among young women over the past decade "corresponds to the same shift in the use of tanning devices."

Nelson said the radiation delivered by tanning beds is substantively different than natural sunlight, offering a much higher percentage of UVA rays, which she said are "more tightly linked to the development of skin cancer." 

"Young people really need protection, and that’s what this bill is about," she said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agrees, citing a 2007 study that shows early use of indoor tanning equipment increases melanoma risk by 75 percent.

But another presenter accused Nelson of presenting "a tremendous amount of misinformation."

Joe Levy represents the indoor tanning salon trade group International Smart Tan Network Inc. That group wants the law to stay as it is. 

Melanoma, Levy told the committee, "does not have direct relationship with sunlight. It is a complex relationship if at all."

"It is not a slam dunk," he added.

Levy travels around the country, defending the industry from state legislation aimed at curtailing teen access to indoor tanning. He testified against a similar bill in Connecticut last year.  

Rep. Marilyn Avila, R-Wake, moved "as a scientist" – she was a chemist for Hanes – to postpone the vote until Levy can be given equal time to present his data.

Hollo argued against the delay but said later that he doesn't have a problem with listening to more debate from the other side.  

"I think the science is there, but there was disagreement," Hollo said. "I have no problem letting the other side bring it up and bring in more people if they want to, and we will counter it with scientific fact."

Avila, the House's lead budget writer for Health and Human Services, isn't convinced. 

Asked whether a lobbyist has the same scientific expertise as Duke's melanoma chief, she responded, "If they use the same sources. You don't necessarily have to be a doctor to be able to find data." 

"It's not in his best interest to support something that's going to be detrimental to people's health," she said of Levy. 

Avila Avila skeptical of H18

Avila says there's a study "out there" that suggests tanning beds only increase the risk of melanoma by one-tenth of 1 percent. 

If teens are banned from tanning beds, Avila says, they will lie out in the sun instead, where they could risk being sunburned.

"The skin cancer issue is not exposure," she said. "The burning is where the issue comes."

Avila said she doesn't believe the many medical groups who support the ban are misguided.  

"But they have a passion, and they see things their way," she added, calling the ban's proponents "emotional."

"You have to be able to stand back objectively and say, 'Yes, there is a problem, but is it this big a problem?'" she said. "We've had scares in the past over things that cause cancer, and we've backed off on them, and I feel like we owe it to the citizens of North Carolina just to be a little more deliberative."

The bill is expected to get more debate and a vote in the House Health Committee next Tuesday.


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  • 4Liberty Feb 25, 2013

    Government by the People, for the People, and at the consent of the Governed implies that said government can only be empowered with authority that each individual posseses.

    I dont have the authority to tell you what to do. No matter how many people I find that agree with me, none of them have the authority to tell you what to do. Collectively, we dont "create" that authority by right of numbers outside of the immoral use of uninstigated force. None of us have that authority to grant to a Representitive.

    So where are they getting this authority?

    It is just another example of 'little tyrants' usurping authority.

  • 4Liberty Feb 25, 2013

    Some pretty awful non sequitur going on in here. Here is a classic example:

    "yeah! When did protecting public health and safety become the responsibility of the government? We should trust private industry to look out for us."

    Deciding that protecting public health and safety is not THE responsibility of the government doesnt mean that you have to trust private industry to do it for you. No where in that statement did you allow for the personal responsibility that each of us has over our own lives.

    Both sides in the GA are wrong on this IMO. Considering a law on this is a misguided venture that only results in further government intrusion in our lives. Saying you have to "consider" the paid lobbyists data as if he deserves "equal consideration" is also rediculous. The legislators, collectively, should first be answering this litmus test, prior to even holding a hearing on a bill: "Is this something that I as an individual could ethically force on my neighbor?"

  • Wirklich Feb 20, 2013

    Though it is illegal for children to purchase cigarettes, some still smoke. But we have the age limit law in place because we don't want them to have free access to something that is proven to be harmful. All valid scientific research indicates that tanning beds are also harmful. I see no reason why we can't set an age limit on free access to this sort of business as well.
    Sure, they can have a tanning bed lobbyist give his sales pitch, but to actually heed this person who lacks any credibility (he is selling tanning beds!!)and at the same time, stand in opposition to the advisement of major health organizations, is irrational. Another example of the sort of legislators we have to contend with for a few more years.

  • rand321 Feb 20, 2013

    Apparently the new NC GOP leadership seems as intent as the old Democrata on telling you what is best for you, your kids and your family.

    This is less government????

  • CaryEngineer Feb 20, 2013

    Frizz "Soft drinks?"
    Where have you been? NYC has already legislated soda sizes...supposed to take effect in 3 weeks.
    Our Government is so efficient and coherent in everything it does, there is no need for personal (or parental) responsibility any more...haven't you heard?
    And yet we keep electing them...sigh.

  • logical Feb 20, 2013

    It is about time the government stepped up and told us how to be parents. I thought I was going to be responsible for raising my children on my own. Whew! What a relief!

  • JustAName Feb 20, 2013

    "I don't think there needs to be a ban...I think parents need to tell their 14 year old daughters that you shouldn't lay in a cancer box to bronze your skin." - JennyB

    Exactly. They should do it the old school way, with some Hawaiian Tropic and laying out in the sun for hours.

  • dougdeep Feb 20, 2013

    "If parents learn how to say no we wouldn't have to waste time and resources on things like this."

    And teens go and do it anyways. What planet do you live on?

  • BuglessDuster Feb 20, 2013

    This is slightly off topic, but if a 14-year old girl can have surgery without her parents' knowledge shouldn't they be responsible enough to make the "choice" to lie in a tanning bed?

  • Half Red Half Blue Feb 20, 2013

    I used to work with a waitress that would tan 3-4 times a week and she would wonder why her skin was flaking. Why regulate it when health insurance companies can just deny coverage for skin cancer caused by tanning excessively? Tan all you wan't I don't care, we want to get rid of social health care anyways.