A Maryland bill that would have made it illegal for tanning facility owners to allow children under 18 to use a tanning device was withdrawn this morning in the General Assembly after it received an unfavorable report from one of the committees in the House of Delegates, according to the register.
Although the bill’s purpose was to reduce the use of tanning beds by young people and protect their health, some places in Maryland already outlaw the use of tanning facilities by minors, such as Howard County. State law allows it, though, as long as kids have the written permission of a parent or legal guardian.
Last month, three freshmen from Annapolis High School—Morgan Corby, Madison Wall, and Grace Dixon—testified before the House Health and Government Operations Committee, the Baltimore Sun reported. They told lawmakers that the desire to be “cool or pretty” often drove teenagers to bronze themselves in tanning salons, despite the medical dangers of using the tanning beds and other devices.
“Nobody tells us the medical and scientific reasons why we shouldn’t be allowed to access something that could cause irreversible damage to our bodies,” the Sun quoted Morgan as saying.
HB 56 had the support of the Maryland Dermatological Society, and similar legislation in other states has had the full support of the state dermatological societies there. The Illinois Dermatological Society, for example, wrote this in response to a proposed law like HB 56 in that state:
A recent study published in the International Journal of Cancer found that, compared with study participants who had never used a tanning bed, the risk of melanoma was 41 percent higher for those who had ever used a tanning bed. The risk was approximately doubled for those who reported more than 10 lifetime sessions (1). The rates of indoor tanning for teen girls in the United States are high; in a national sample, approximately 40% of 17- to 18-year-old girls had used indoor tanning in the past year (2). In Illinois, there will be approximately 2,280 new melanoma cases diagnosed in 2011, and an estimated 360 people in Illinois will die from the disease each year.
In addition, several organizations, including the US Food and Drug Administration and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, have issued statements saying the use of tanning beds by minors or those with a family history of skin cancer is dangerous.
“Exposure to UV radiation—whether from the sun or from artificial sources such as sunlamps used in tanning beds—increases the risk of developing skin cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute,” the FDA wrote. “Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is linked to getting severe sunburns, especially at a young age.”
But anecdotal evidence was also presented to the House committee, stories from tanning facility owners who had used indoor tanning beds frequently throughout their lives without any adverse effects. One speaker even claimed there was no scientific evidence linking tanning beds and melanoma.
Even in my most skeptical persona, I’d have to admit there’s at least an indirect link between tanning beds and an increased risk of melanoma. (Note above the peer-reviewed evidence from mostly controlled studies brought to the debate in Illinois.)
And when lawmakers in Texas passed a law two years ago that resembled HB 56, the Texas Dermatological Society celebrated, saying, “Tanning beds are responsible for an extra 170,000 cases of skin cancer per year in the US.”
Not all 170,000 of those new diagnoses each year are for kids under 18, of course, but melanoma is one of the most common (and deadly) cancers among 15- to 29-year-olds. To stand up in front of a House committee and say there’s no scientific connection to indoor tanning is just gobbledygook.
Similar Maryland bills went down in 2012, 2013, and 2014. And while we’re impressed that students spoke their mind to state lawmakers and we don’t wish to promote an unfriendly business environment in the state, it’s time for these students’ representatives in the state house to listen to science, not stories, and do the right thing when it comes to minors using indoor tanning facilities.