The Connecticut State Legislature is currently considering a ban on indoor tanning for minors.
The proposed bill would prevent all indoor tanning salons in the state from serving people under 18 years of age, unless they have the written consent of a physician. Connecticut’s current policy requires 16- and 17-year-olds to have parental consent and those under the age of 16 to have a doctor’s permission to be served. On March 15, the Connecticut General Assembly heard testimonies for the bill, which is backed by recent research from the Yale School of Public Health. The research shows that indoor tanning is associated with a 69 percent increased risk of early-onset basal cell carcinoma and that 27 percent of cases of this type of skin cancer would be prevented if indoor tanning were not used.
School of Public Health professor Susan Mayne, one of the study’s authors, said the potential for the bill passing the legislature is much higher than it was last year, when a similar bill was proposed but did not make it out of the public health committee. She noted that stronger scientific evidence on the hazards of indoor tanning — including some key studies published in 2012 — along with a longer legislative session strengthen the bill’s chances.
Last month, the Public Health Committee heard 35 testimonies on the bill. The pro-bill testimonies came mostly from doctors, public health researchers and medical organizations. Opposing testimonies came mostly from tanning companies.
Supporters of the bill said the proposed legislation may serve a preventative role. The younger a person begins tanning, the more likely he or she may be to continue the habit later in life, said study co-author Brenda Cartmel, chronic disease epidemiology research scientist at the School of Public Health.
“If we can delay the age at which young people start indoor tanning, some of them may never start,” she said, adding that peer pressure is a large factor in teenage tanning.
University of North Carolina School of Social Work professor Matthew Howard, who studies the addictive qualities of tanning, said that from a public health perspective, “there’s no question” that indoor tanning increases the risk of skin cancer.
Although there is little scientific literature on the subject, the research suggests tanning could be addictive for some individuals, particularly depressed and anxious young women, he added. Still, Howard said he is ambivalent about the proposed Senate bill, calling it “a little Big Brother-like.”
Tom Kelleher, founder of Connecticut’s Tommy’s Tanning, said many of his customers think the bill is “outrageous.” Expressing concern over the bill’s effect on “personal freedoms,” Kelleher likened the situation to that of Prohibition and said it may increase the appeal of tanning among youth. If dermatologists are concerned about the effects of tanning, they should also pay attention to the effects of overexposure to natural sunlight, he added.
But dermatologist Beth Goldstein, president of Central Dermatology Center in North Carolina, said that tanning bed UV light is 15 times stronger than that of the sun. Although the eight-fold increase in melanoma — the most fatal form of skin cancer — in young women is not conclusively linked to the proliferation of tanning bed use, “that’s the assumption,” she added.
If the bill passes the legislature and is signed by Governor Dannel Malloy, it will go into effect on Oct. 1.