Friday, February 21, 2014

A Note from Mom Doesn't Block the Rays

Many state legislatures are currently considering bills to restrict teens from using tanning beds. They got the part right about wanting to ban minors from their use because the increasing popularity of tanning beds is related to the climbing rates of skin cancer and melanoma, the fatal type of skin cancer. Actually from 1970 to 2009, the incidence of melanoma has increased by 800% among young women and 400% among young men, and it continues to rise at around 3.1% a year. However, the legislators seem to be confused about what type of legislation they want ... or perhaps it is how much can they restrict and still get re-elected? 

Five states are determined to protect ALL their kids from the dangers of the excessive UV radiation that comes from tanning beds -- California, Vermont, Texas, Illinois, and Nevada. [Update: As of 2017, this number has grown to 15 states.] Oregon also has an under 18 ban on tanning beds, but it includes a physician's permission exception. [Update: Washington state has same legislation as Oregon in 2017.] Since we know that there are no medical or health benefits from the use of tanning beds, which is not the same as phototherapy, this sends a very confusing message to an already very confused public. But that is a whole other blog! 

Parental consent tanning bills don't work

Much of the legislation being discussed this year includes a parental permission exclusion. And I am here to tell you from painful personal experience that parental consent laws simply do not work ... and they certainly don't prevent melanoma. 

It is, however, logical to think that parental consent bills should be appropriate. A parent should be able to decide and control what activities their children participate in. And until recently, as far as tanning bed use goes, parents have had that responsibility ... and they have failed terribly. 

Currently 28 million people use tanning beds every year [Update: In 2017 that number has risen to 30 million], and 2.3 million of those are teens -- all participating in risky behavior knowing what we know about the relationship between UV radiation and cancer. According to the Center for Disease Control, "A tan does NOT indicate good health. It is a response to injury." And that injury to your skin opens the door to a life of fear and pain.

If parents knew the facts about the dangers of indoor tanning, ZERO kids would be permitted to use them. And unfortunately, that is not the case. In fact, studies have shown that many teens get their start in tanning beds by going with their moms ... some sort of bizarre bonding ritual!

There are laws for minors regarding alcohol and tobacco that don't require or allow a parent to consent. Why should tanning bed use, exposing our children to cancer-causing radiation, be any different? Parents have so many parenting decisions to make that I seriously doubt that they would miss this one.

Even the permission forms that parents are asked to sign before their child can tan,
at least the ones I have seen, are problematic. Yes, they do alert parents to the risks to some extent ... but do they state that it could KILL your child?!





Indoor tanning industry's web of lies and myths

I'm sure parents hear the warnings from the medical community and melanoma advocates like me, but they also have the indoor tanning industry pulling them in the opposite direction, weaving a web of lies and myths. 

In Texas there are laws against the tanning salons being able to advertise any benefits to tanning bed use other than cosmetic ... but what they tell potential customers is probably a different story. It certainly was years ago when I was faced with the decision-making process of deciding what was right for my daughter Jaime.

Here is some of my testimony before the Texas House and Senate health committees:
          "FACT: Parental consent laws do not work.
Jaime was our princess, our precious baby girl. As a teenager, Jaime was bubbly, outgoing, and popular and wanted to do what all her friends were doing … use tanning beds. I was a busy working mom with 3 teenagers, having a difficult time keeping track of all their activities. It wasn’t until the day Jaime came home from school with a sunburn that I realized she was using tanning beds. Texas had a parental consent law in place at the time, and Jaime had been signing my name to the forms. But that’s not all.
FACT: The indoor tanning industry is misleading customers.
Not knowing whether these tanning beds were safe for her, I went to the tanning salon with her to ask questions. They gave me lots of information, but it was misinformation, which proved to be deadly. They assured me that the beds were safe … because the government won’t allow them if they weren’t. They also told me that with her pale skin, she needed to develop a base tan in the beds to protect her from the sun. There was never a mention of skin cancer … or any risks for that matter. So unfortunately, I bought into their slick marketing and gave them my money … and signed away my child’s life. And although that was 20 years ago, they are still holding on to their false claims."

Rights vs responsibility

The bottom line with parental permission exceptions in teen tan ban bills: A note from mom does not make tanning beds any less dangerous. If we want to protect the children of this country from unnecessary cancer, we need to change our thinking. Perhaps instead of being concerned with our parental rights, we need to thinking about our parental responsibilities. We need to realize that as parents, our role should be to demand that our lawmakers make public health decisions to protect our children based on sound research and medical data -- and not for political reasons. The health and safety of our children should trump everything, including parental rights.

For more information on melanoma and/or on the status of state teen tanning bed restrictions, see

 Melanoma Mama (Jaime's mom, Donna) (Remember Jaime) (Jjem Creations) (Jjem Creations)

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