The age of tan

A proposed statewide ban on artificial tanning for those under the age of 18, at first blush, raises questions of legislative priorities.

It seems like a solution in search of a problem. Is tanning-bed abuse by adolescents so pervasive that it requires legislative intervention? And more importantly, how much of a role should the government play in safeguarding the public?

It’s the “nanny state” argument boiling to the surface yet again. Propositional logic and natural deduction inevitably lead us to the question: What’s next? A ban on cheeseburgers in Happy Meals? Few would argue that tanning salons pose a more immediate threat to public health than the childhood obesity epidemic.

Still, we think House Bill 1054 merits serious consideration for one simple reason: It protects vulnerable citizens with still-developing brains who might not understand the correlation between tanning beds and the risk of getting skin cancer.

The National Institute of Mental Health provides an overview of adolescent brain development, “The Teen Brain: Still Under Construction.” In key ways, it asserts, “the brain doesn’t look like that of an adult until the early 20s.”

We have laws regulating the sale of cigarettes and alcohol to minors. The tanning ban seems to fit squarely into that regimen.

But Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, said the ban absolves parents of responsibility.

“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 during a debate on the House floor. “That is what this bill is about.”

Gardner’s position assumes that all teens have caring parents. Or parents who are informed enough to know that tanning beds can be harmful. Or parents who won’t cave to children’s demands to look cool.

In instances where children are susceptible, we think it makes sense to have a failsafe mechanism in place. If parents don’t look out for their children’s best interests, who will?

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Cheryl Peniston, D-Westminster, has opposed a parental consent component because many parents are unaware of the dangers tanning beds have on youth.

The ban, which won final House approval Thursday before heading to the Senate, would be among the most restrictive in the nation. To date, 35 states have laws banning 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 for anyone under the age of 18. Colorado’s bill mirrors the laws of those states.

This bill may contribute to more debate about government interfering with personal choice, but Colorado is hardly plowing new ground or taking nannyism to the extreme. Save the invective for when the Legislature tries to ban doughnuts and ribs for citizens with a high body mass index.

Protecting children is not the same thing as unduly limiting an adult’s freedom to make lifestyle choices.


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