Watching the rays: Tanning beds and teens

Megan Halbert, manager of Tan in Paradise in Grand Junction, tans her legs in a tanning booth. The Colorado House of Representatives on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to what would be one of the most restrictive tanning-bed laws in the country.

Teens under the age of 18 won’t be able to use tanning salons in the state under a bill that won preliminary approval in the Colorado House on Wednesday.

The ban, which still requires final House approval before heading to the Senate, would be among the most restrictive in the nation.

To date, 35 states have banned teens from utilizing ultraviolet light tanning beds because of the risk of skin cancer, but most allow it with parental permission for children as young as 14, according to research by the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures.

Four of those states — California, Nevada, Texas and Vermont — have the strictest, banning it to anyone under the age of 18. Colorado’s bill mirrors those states.

Rep. Cherylin Peniston, D-Westminster, who introduced HB1054, said Colorado already has a high rate of melanoma, and children are particularly susceptible to it.

“We have a 15 to 20 percent higher incidence of melanoma already in Colorado. Can we please save lives of our young adults who don’t have the knowledge to decide whether this is a good activity or not?” she said. “They want to go to the prom and look pretty. I don’t blame them. I wanted to go to the prom and look pretty, but I don’t give up my life to do that. One bad tan can kill you. One cigarette won’t.”

Peniston and other supporters of the measure say that numerous medical studies have shown that younger people can’t tolerate tanning beds as well as adults, and younger people aren’t as mentally developed enough to understand the dangers.

Opponents to the measure, however, said the ban at least should allow parents to decide for their children.

Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, and other House Republicans tried to amend the bill to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to use the beds, but only with their parents’ permission.

“I respect the intent of Representative Peniston’s bill. She is actually trying to save lives,” said Gerou, who coincidentally is sponsoring a bill to ban smoking to anyone under the age of 21. “I would never support children using a tanning device. I see this as a very small change.”

Similar bans in several other states do that, some as young as 14 and others even requiring the parents to accompany them to the salons to ensure the teens aren’t falsifying permission slips.

Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, said the measure wrongly protects parents from having to make the decision, and that’s their job.

“What we will have, finally, is a state in which the state raises children, the state is responsible for children, parents are no longer responsible,” Gardner said. “That is what this bill is about.”

Peniston said research on the issue shows that “parental consent really does not work” because many parents are unaware of the dangers tanning beds have on youth.

According to a 2012 study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, the use of indoor tanning has reached “epidemic proportions,” saying children as young as age 10 are using them, she said.

The study shows that teenage girls use tanning beds about 10 times more than boys. As many as 35 percent of girls under age 18 use salons, with about half going at least 10 times a year.

Last year, a study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization, found that people of all age groups who never have used tanning beds have a 15 percent higher risk of developing melanoma.

That study also cited seven other worldwide studies that showed that people who first use a tanning bed before age 35 have a 75 percent higher risk of developing skin cancer.

As a result, several medical and governmental groups strongly recommend against their use by youth, Peniston said.

Scott Young, owner of Tan in Paradise, 2478B U.S. Highway 6, said his business targets adults, rather than teens.

Still, Young said the law should extend to people as young as 16, adding that at least those younger clients still can get UV-free spray tans.

“The bottom line is, I disagree with (the bill),” said Young, adding that he believes tanning is safe for youth that have gone through puberty. “There should be some sort of cutoff (but) to put an arbitrary age on it, I think the right age is 16.”

Staff Writer Amy Hamilton contributed to this report.


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