FDA Pushes For Cancer Warning Labels On Tanning Beds In Effort To Fight Melanoma

(Credit: University of California, San Francisco)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Monday took steps to ensure that consumers are aware of the cancer-related risks of using commercial tanning booths. In its proposed rule, the FDA wants the booths “to carry language warning people under the age of 18 about the risks of indoor tanning” and “require manufacturers to meet certain safety and performance requirements before marketing their devices.”

If given final approval, tanning booths would also reclassify the machines themselves to “moderate-risk” products, and give the FDA more power to change their design to make them safer for public use:

Medical groups like the American Academy of Dermatology have been urging the U.S. government to take action on tanning beds for years, citing increases in the number of cases of skin cancer among women in their teens and twenties. Dermatologists say indoor tanning advertisements directly appeal to teenagers’ desire to be attractive.

Currently the machines are classified as low-risk devices, in the same group as bandages and tongue depressors. By increasing their classification to moderate-risk, or class II, devices the FDA proposal could limit the levels of radiation the devices emit and make other changes to their design.

The move comes in the wake of lobbying by public health and medical advocacy groups concerned with the ballooning rates of lethal skin cancers like melanoma. The incidence of such cancers has been steadily rising over the last three decades, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) expects over 75,000 Americans to be diagnosed with melanoma this year alone. Clearer warnings on the risks of commercial tanning by American youth is particularly important given that “people who begin tanning younger than age 35 have a 75 percent higher risk of melanoma” and the reality that less than 11 percent of tanning facilities followed FDA’s safety schedule limiting young people’s use of the beds to three times a week at most — in fact, the vast majority of such facilities “would allow teens to use their facilities all seven days for the first week.”

Several states — including Vermont, California, and New Jersey — actually have outright bans on under-18 tanning due to the associated public health risks. Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) recently vetoed a bill that would enact the same restrictions in his state, parroting tanning bed producers’ and tanning salon owners’ argument that it could actually be riskier for kids to get their tan on in regular sunshine, which also exposes them to UV rays. Those claims were debunked in a 2010 American Association for Cancer Research study, which concluded that the more concentrated rays use in tanning beds are actually more dangerous than normal sunlight.