Hoping to stave off a law barring minors from sunbeds, the indoor tanning industry on Thursday introduced voluntary rules for tanners 17 and younger.
Nearly 100 tanning salons in Connecticut say they will abide by the new protocols, which allow children under 16 to use sunbeds only with a doctor’s note. The proposal allows 16- and 17-year-olds to tan, but they must obtain written consent from a parent, and that parent must be accompany the tanner to his or her first session.
“We’ve always operated since the mid ’80s under regulation,” said Tom Kelleher, owner of Tommy’s Tanning, a chain of 14 salons in Connecticut. “We have no problem with it, we like it. So what were doing is…codifying…this to do what we do anyway and have the industry…adhere to it as a standard.”
Kelleher and other representatives of the tanning industry came to the Capitol Thursday to discuss the new rules. During the last legislative session, lawmakers considered a bill that would have barred minors from tanning, but the industry fought it off, arguing that preventing minors from tanning beds would make them more likely to tan outdoors, which salon owners say is far more risky.
Critics of indoor tanning hope to raise the ban again this year.
“It is now irrefutable science that tanning bed use by young people, particularly women, is causing early-onset melanoma,” said Nancy Alderman, president of Environment and Human Health, a group pushing for tougher restrictions on the tanning industry. “We protect minors from cigarettes, we protect them from alcohol use…we must protect these minors from using tanning beds.”
Alderman said the industry’s proposal is merely an attempt to avoid an outright prohibition on youth tanning but, she said, voluntary restrictions won’t work, any more than voluntary restrictions on teen alcohol use would.
“We need a law,” she said, noting that groups such as the American Cancer Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics all support banning minors from indoor tanning salons.
Kelleher and other industry representatives dispute Alderman’s assertions and said she won’t rest until indoor tanning is outlawed. ”What we’re trying to do it operate responsibly, like we always have,” Kelleher said. “We have no problem with legislation, we have a problem with non-existence.”
Kelleher said less than one percent of his customers are minors. “There’s a huge misperception,” he said. “People think: tanning, spring break.” In reality, he said, tanning customers are older, and more likely to be men, than the stereotype would have it.
He said physicians sometimes prescribe tanning for patients to treat auto-immune diseases and seasonal affective disorder, among other illnesses.