Time to limit risky tanning for teenagers


A bill to put cancer warning labels on cell phones garnered much attention in the Legislature last month, despite very little evidence showing a genuine risk.

Last week that effort stalled in the Legislature.

Of far greater concern to all Americans should be the now well-established link between sun exposure, tanning and skin cancer, particularly among young people.

Several recent studies published in the Archives of Dermatology show we are well into an epidemic of skin cancer that will certainly get worse before it gets better.

“We are dealing with a problem that is not going away,” Dr. Howard Rogers told Business Week magazine. “The number has kept going up and up at a rate of 4.2 percent per year, on average, from 1992 to 2006.”

Non-melanoma skin cancers now affect more people than all other cancers combined.

One study analyzed Medicare data to determine that the total number of skin cancer procedures in the U.S. increased 77 percent between 1992 and 2006. The number of procedures increased by 16 percent between 2002 and 2006 alone.

The number of Americans being treated for non-melanoma skin cancer grew from 1.6 million in 1992 to 2 million 2006.

The number is certain to increase as baby boomers age and retire. Many of them have received years of sun over-exposure while growing up, long before the dangers of ultraviolet rays were fully understood.

The real attention should be on preventing exposure among young people, particularly tanning beds.

The Journal of American Dermatology estimates that 30 million people a year do indoor tanning, three fourths of them women between 16 and 29. The Journal estimates that artificial tanning in young people increases the risk of melanoma by 75 percent.

The younger the person, the greater the eventual risk, according to physicians.

Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it was considering rules to curb the use of tanning beds by teens under 18 years of age.

The ideas being considered range from an outright prohibition, to requiring those under 18 to obtain a signed consent form from their parents.

We already limit the use of cigarettes, alcohol and other potentially harmful products by young people, and perhaps it is time to add indoor tanning beds to the list.

But beyond new rules, Americans need to change the idea that tanning is associated with status, beauty and health.

Clearly, it is not.

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