The state Senate unanimously passed a bill that places strict new limits on the use of tanning beds by teenagers.
The bill has proven controversial in years past but on Thursday, it cleared the chamber after less than 10 minutes of debate. The agreement this year “reflects a consensus compromise that really does meet the public health needs of the state, recognizing that this practice is in fact dangerous with long term consequences,” said Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney.
The bill, which now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration, bars the use of sunbeds by anyone under age 17. That’s a change from an earlier version, which would have banned anyone under 18.
Sen. Theresa Gerratana, the co-chairwoman of the legislature’s public health committee, cited numerous studies showing a link between tanning beds and various forms of skin cancer, including melanoma, the most lethal.
Several lawmakers didn’t need to consider the studies: they brought their own stories. Sen. John McKinney said his maternal grandmother, mother and sister had each been diagnosed with skin cancer, though their illnesses were brought on by exposure to the sun, and not by indoor tanning.
“When you think of how popular it is for very young kids to go into tanning salons without understanding the serious potential health consequences, I see the need for some government intervention,” said McKinney, the leader of the Senate Republican caucus. “I don’t know if outright banning is the right process, but the amendment makes the bill better by limiting it to people 16 and under.”
Sen. Steve Cassano, D-Manchester, said he recently underwent a medical procedure at the dermatology department at the UConn health center. When the medical personnel learned that he is a state senator, “I was almost harassed by nurses and doctors and so on saying use common sense on that bill, it really needs to be passed.”
The tanning industry tried to stave off government regulation by adopting voluntary regulations limiting younger teens’ access to tanning beds beginning Jan. 1. Under their rules, children under 16 can use a sun bed only with a doctor’s note. Sixteen- and 17-year-olds can tan if they have written parental consent and when parents accompany children to their first session.
But lawmakers said the public health risks associated with teen tanning were just too great. Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton, compared limits on sunbed use to restrictions on teen driving.
“if we do the same thing here, reducing the cases of melanomas and cancers in our young citizens,” Witlkos said, “we’re certainly doing the right thing.”