SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah lawmaker has changed his mind, believing now that teen access to tanning beds should be banned completely.
“The risk is too high,” Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, told members of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Interim Committee recently. “There is no justification for it.”
Daw on Wednesday proposed a bill that would remove a section in Utah law that allows anyone under 18 to use tanning salons with parental permission or a doctor’s note.
“Doctors have told me time and time again — there is no medical need for tanning,” Daw said.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, with approximately 9,500 new diagnoses each day, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Utah, unfortunately, has the nation’s highest rate of melanoma, data shows.
The risk of sunburn and, consequently, skin cancer increases 59% when a person uses tanning beds before age 35, and more particularly before 25, said Brook Carlisle, government relations director with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
"The greatest, avoidable known risk factor is the use of indoor tanning devices,” she said. “Despite all of these documented risks, we know that people are still using tanning beds.”
The latest data show that 1 in 13 high school girls report using tanning beds at least once a year. She said proper enforcement of the proposed law would help deter youth from using tanning beds in Utah.
“I work with patients every day who tell me they wish they had known the risk,” Mark Hyde, a physician assistant at Huntsman Cancer Institute, told lawmakers. He said “there is no such thing as a safe tan.”
Hyde said the majority of the damage caused by ultraviolet radiation “is happening in the formative years,” when skin is growing and developing.
“That’s a very critical time,” he said.
While he trusts his own teenage kids, he said he doesn’t trust the tanning industry, which is staffed by their friends, to protect them.
“I don’t have any faith that that is going to work,” Hyde said, advocating for a change in the current law. “Partial protection doesn’t work.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires tanning salons to post warnings that UV radiation from indoor tanning devices “poses serious health risks.”
“All use of tanning beds increases the risk of skin cancer,” the agency states.
Utahn Carrie Miller grew up carefree in California and said “having a tan was a big focus for me.” It extended to tanning salons while she attended college in the Pacific Northwest. She was diagnosed with melanoma at 25.
“It all could have been avoided,” Miller told lawmakers, referring to her more than 30 scars that used to be freckles or moles. “I wonder how my path would have been different.”
“People are unaware they are playing Russian roulette with their skin and their lives,” she said. “I wish we had known then what we know now.”
A bill passed in Utah in 2007 required parents to sign an annual agreement allowing teens to frequent tanning salons. But that changed in 2012, when a revision was passed that requires parents to be present with a teen at a tanning salon.
Daw has historically been against further regulating of businesses, but said on Wednesday that the data is too convincing.
“The evidence of risk was overwhelming,” he said.
If Daw’s bill, which is still in draft form, is successful, indoor tanning will join cigarettes and alcohol as prohibited teen behaviors in Utah and leave behind R-rated movies, tattoos and body piercing, which still require parental consent.