An estimated 29 percent of white high school girls use tanning beds, according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The results are troubling considering the growing incidence of skin cancer among American youth.
Researchers found that young girls begin indoor tanning early on in adolescence and steadily increase their use of the products as they get older. By age 18, 44 percent of white teenage girls report using a tanning salon within the last year. Almost a third of these girls say they are habitual tanners, frequenting tanning beds 10 or more times over the course of a year.
There is abundant evidence that the increasing trend in indoor tanning has had negative public health consequences. The CDC expects over 75,000 Americans to be diagnosed with melanoma this year alone — a number that has been rising steadily over the last three decades. The agency has also reported that “people who begin tanning younger than age 35 have a 75 percent higher risk of melanoma.” Using tanning beds before the age of 25 also increases the risk of non-melanoma skin cancers by up to 100 percent, with the risk for both melanoma and non-melanoma cancers increasing proportionally with frequency of use.
The new numbers have public health advocates clamoring for more effective education campaigns aimed at young people about tanning’s health risks. “Young people often think they’re not susceptible to harm from risky behaviors,” said Dr. Sophie Balk in an interview with USA Today. “Young teens sometimes have their first tanning experience with their moms…[so] it’s important for us to discuss the dangers with parents as well as teens.” A landmark 2010 study found that tanning salons employ very similar methods to the 1950s tobacco industry to convince target consumers that their products are both desirable and safe.
Federal regulators have also taken action against tanning salons in recent months. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed regulations in May that would re-classify commercial tanning booths as “moderate risk products” and may force manufacturers to change the beds’ design to make them emit less UV radiation. The rule would also require commercial booths to “display language warning people under the age of 18 about the risks of indoor tanning.”
Whether the tanning industry will abide by such regulations is an open question. A 2009 investigation by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) concluded that less than 11 percent of tanning facilities followed the FDA’s safety schedule limiting young people’s use of tanning beds to three times a week at most. Such violations are often encouraged by parents, since facilities require the presence of an adult in order to serve an underage customer.
Several states have passed more restrictive laws against indoor tanning in response to concerns over rising melanoma rates and the industry’s poor record of safety compliance. California, Vermont, Oregon, Nevada, Texas, and New Jersey already have commercial tanning bans for minors in effect. Obamacare contains a 10 percent tax on indoor tanning salons as one of its funding provisions.