North Carolina Senate panel OKs tanning-bed ban for youths

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Obstacles cleared Tuesday for an outright ban on children using tanning beds in North Carolina as a Senate committee voted for the prohibition two years after the chamber declined to take up the matter.

The health committee recommended a House measure prohibiting tanning-bed use for anyone under 18. Current rules require parental permission for children age 14 to 17 to use a bed and a doctor's written prescription for those 13 and under.

The bill now goes to the full Senate, and if approved it would go to the desk of Gov. Pat McCrory, which hasn't expressed any opposition. The prohibition has the backing of state physicians' groups and cancer prevention and child safety advocacy organizations. They say evidence is growing that the beds' ultraviolet rays increase the risk of skin cancers like melanoma.

The House, which passed a similar measure two years ago, did so again in March. The Senate received the same House bill two years ago but didn't address it.

Sen. Tommy Tucker, R-Union, said Senate colleagues had opposed the idea because many saw the ban as government overreach into decision-making by parents. But Tucker said they've now been won over by medical evidence. A pediatric dermatologist addressed the committee.

"They became convinced by scientific data that something needed to be done so they allowed me to move forward with the bill in the Senate," Tucker said after the committee vote. "I certainly believe it will prevent children and young people from having the ability to contract a disease that is preventable."

Indoor tanning as a young person appears more strongly related to a lifetime risk of skin cancer, according to a 2014 U.S. Surgeon General's report. A study also shows three-quarters of melanoma cases among people ages 18 to 29 who've used tanning beds were attributable to such use.

This year's measure is named in memory of the late Rep. Jim Fulghum, R-Wake, a brain surgeon who helped sponsor the 2013 measure. He died last year. Fulghum's wife, Mary Susan, said the prohibition will serve as a "safety net for those who aren't quite able or old or mature enough to make that kind of decision for themselves."

Eleven other states already an under 18 prohibition on tanning bed use, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Tanning beds become more popular for teenagers during high school prom seasons, although many tanning salons are now promoting spray-on tans as an alternative.

The National Tanning Association, a salon lobbying group, offered the only opposition to the bill in the committee. Michael Houser, an association lobbyist, said overregulation of the industry already was harming hundreds of small businesses that offer the service, and more rules could lead to more closings.

"The decision whether or not a teen should be allowed to visit a tanning bed should be up to their parents and not the government," Houser said.

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