Big government in action - House bill seeks to restrict tanning bed usage for teenagers

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Several members of the Missouri House of Representatives are looking to place age limits on the use of tanning beds, with the limits aimed squarely at teenage girls.

Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, has sponsored legislation that prohibits the use of a tanning bed at a commercial establishment by any one younger than 15.  Meanwhile, Gary Cross, R-Lee’s Summit, sponsors a bill that would require a parent or a guardian to appear at a business and sign a waiver drawn up by the state Department of Health and Senior Services on the dangers of tanning.

The legislation is in response to a rapid rise in the instance of skin cancer, especially melanoma among young women. Dr. Brundah Balaraman, a dermatology resident at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis told a house committee this week that melanoma is the fastest rising cancer among women 20 to 29 years old with 2.2 million new cases nationwide per year.

Balaraman also sited a national study that found that people who tan using an indoor tanning bed at three times more likely to contract cancer than the general population. Balaraman then sited studies done by Washington University that 65 percent of tanning facilities in Missouri allowed children as young as 10 years old to tan, often without parental consent.

“None of these operators were knowledgeable to ask about contraindications to ultra violet radiation such as medications that (clients) may be on, prior histories of skin cancers, or other health problems that could be made worse by light exposure,” said Balaraman.

Balaraman and Dr. Karen Edison, Chair of the Department of Dermatology at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, both said greater regulation of the tanning industry is necessary, but that the legislation was a helpful first step.

“When I first started, if we had a young person with a skin cancer, it was a big deal. We would talk about it,” Edison told the committee. “And now, it’s an every day occurrence.”

“What’s most alarming to me is the young people who are developing melanoma,” she added.

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, and Edison said studies show that UVA rays, such as the kind emitted by tanning beds, cause the kinds of abnormalities under the upper layers of the skin that result in melanoma.

“To see young people coming in with melanoma, as they are, it’s just devastating,” said Edison. “We know now, it’s a no-brainer, this is a public health issue from where I sit.”

Under Barnes’ bill, proprietors who allow patrons under 15 to tan would be fined up to $250 for a first offense, up to $500 for a second offense and be subject to a third degree misdemeanor and jail time of up to 15 days for a third offense.

Cross’s bill would fine tanning facilities up to $1,000 for any customer under the age of 18 that tans without the signature of the parent or guardian on the waiver.

Melanoma sufferer Paul Hummel of Lee’s Summit belongs to a group that speaks about the dangers of skin cancer and the behaviors that lead to it. He told the committee that teenagers need to have the permission of a responsible adult at the very least.

“Every hour in this country, somebody dies in this country from melanoma,” said Hummel. “By passing legislation like this, making it obvious that yes, there is risk to this behavior, and that it’s not just like going to Arby’s to get a sandwich.”