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Law to protect teens from tanning harms


The Herald-Dispatch

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill passed by the West Virginia Legislature earlier this month seeks to prevent teens from feeling the burn of tanning beds and the likely burn of skin cancer in the years to follow.

With prom season in full swing and summer just around the corner, Gov. Jim Justice on Friday was considering a bill that would prevent anyone younger than 18 from lying in a tanning bed.

House Bill 2520 was approved by the West Virginia Legislature during the last day of the regular session April 8, with lawmakers in and out of the medical field telling stories of personal experiences regarding concerns about tanning beds.

The changes the bill makes to current state law are small in terms of grammar and word count, but they are substantial in effect, said Dr. Amy Lochow, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Marshall University.

“The majority of sun exposure that anyone has is acquired before they turn 18,” said Lochow, who also is a practicing pediatrician with Marshall Health. “In general, that’s when you get the most sun exposure, and exposure to any type of UV light, like a tanning bed has a direct increase in your risk of skin cancer, especially in children.”

State law currently allows for people younger than 18 to lie in tanning beds with their parents’ permission.

If HB 2520 becomes law, access to tanning beds will be equivalent to access to cigarettes in the Mountain State, with people having to provide an ID to prove they’re old enough to make the decision whether to use them.

A report from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration shows tanning beds may be more dangerous than the sun because they can be used at the same high intensity every day of the year – unlike the sun whose intensity varies with the time of day, the season and cloud cover, according to the FDA’s website.

“The reason for that is the ultraviolet light in tanning beds is 10 to 15 times more potent than just the sun itself,” Lochow said. “Saying you’re going to tan in a tanning bed for 10 minutes is not the same as tanning outside for 10 minutes. It’s a much higher dose of radiation.”

In 2009, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, reclassified tanning beds as having the same risk level for cancer as cigarettes and asbestos.

It can take a few years for cancer to develop and for symptoms of it to show, Lochaw said, meaning that a glow for prom or a base tan ahead of a beach vacation could become something far more costly than a prom gown or weekend getaway.

The number of skin cancer cases due to tanning is higher than the number of lung cancer cases due to smoking, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. In the U.S. alone, 419,254 cases of skin cancer can be attributed to indoor tanning, according to the foundation.

“The whole thing with teens, and why this is important, is that most teenagers don’t think about the long-term consequences,” Lochaw said. “What happens is you accumulate sun exposure or tanning bed exposure, and you’re going to see the negative effects 15 years down the road.”

The IARC supports legislation that bans indoor tanning for those younger than 18 years.

The FDA reports the majority of tanning bed customers are teenage girls and young women, and women who use tanning beds more than once a month are 55 percent more likely to develop melanoma, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Whether it’s from the media or other sources, Lochow said she understands the pressure young women feel, and she suggests alternatives to tanning beds.

“Obviously, we would encourage girls to just be happy with the skin they’re in,” she said. “I know there are girls out there who feel pressure to have that tan for prom, but there definitely are other options.”

Lochow said there are plenty of FDA-approved over-the-counter tanning and bronzing lotions as well as spray-on tanning solutions.

“That would definitely be safer than a tanning bed,” she said.

Lochow also reiterated the medical standard that people should be wearing sunblock each day and avoid as much sun exposure as possible between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun’s UV rays are strongest.

“I know it’s not feasible to keep kids indoors all the time at those times,” Lochow said. “The best thing you can do to protect them is apply sunscreen every time a kid goes outside for more than 20 minutes. Longs sleeves, pants and hats that cover their faces are also some easy things to do to protect them from the sun.”

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