Washington D.C. joins more than 40 states that have put laws in place to protect minors from the highly dangerous act of indoor tanning. While that is a good thing in theory, laws are useless when they’re not obeyed.
A study cited within the linked source article revealed that almost 40% of tanning salons flout state laws, and many do so with little-to-no consequences.
A Burning Issue
Salons allowing teens to tan is not only an illegal act in most states, it’s also a morally reprehensible one. Most teenagers don’t have a complete understanding of the numerous hazards that tanning has on their health. And many who do are willing to take their chances in order to placate their vanity. It’s no great revelation that minors don’t always utilize the best judgement, which is exactly why these laws must be enforced regardless of the cost to a salon’s bottom line.
Tanning significantly increases the risk of developing skin cancer or, even worse, melanoma. The fact is that more people get skin cancer from tanning than get lung cancer from smoking. That statistic is staggering, and tanning salon owners know it. They also know that most of their young clientele don’t.
Salons promote tanning beds as peaceful, innocent diversions that make you look and feel great. These shysters are the present-day Marlboro Men. They’re projecting a harmful product as safe, while counting on the ignorance of youth to swell their coffers.
If a bar or store were to be caught selling alcohol or cigarettes to a minor, it could very well lose its license while the person who sold it loses his or her job. Law enforcement takes this issue seriously, as it should. Police routinely set up stings to discourage the practice and to keep businesses on their toes. Such stings should also be expanded to include indoor tanning salons. Unfortunately, tanning doesn’t yet have the same stigma attached to it that smoking does. It should though, because it can be just as dangerous.
Perhaps in time and with increased education tanning salons will go the way of cigarette machines and smoking sections. We can only hope. But what about the countless lives that will be disrupted or lost between that time and this?
This isn’t like the 1960’s prior to the Surgeon General’s smoking proclamation. We already know far too much about the dangers of tanning to be this passive. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the world, yet it continually flies under the radar while taking a back seat in both funding and prestige to other diseases.
It’s time to get serious about enforcing existing tanning laws and holding salon owners accountable. By doing so, we can help prevent the destruction of countless young lives.
More Tanning Salons Ignoring State Laws
*Additional source articles: Health.usnews.com
Over the 18 years since the Melanoma Education Foundation (MEF) was founded, we’ve learned that the success of sun safety instruction varies, depending on the age of the students.
Sun safety education has a much greater effect on elementary school students than it does on teens who attend junior high and high school.
Sloan Kettering Cancer Center recently conducted a study on this topic. They researched the difference between elementary and middle school students in Framingham, Massachusetts. They discovered a 50% reduction in the use of sunscreen use by the middle schoolers in comparison with that of the elementary school students.
Despite significantly increasing the amount of sun safety instruction taught in classrooms, we’re frequently informed by secondary school health teachers that their students aren’t taking heed of the information presented to them. They ignore the dangers of skin exposure to UV rays, and continue to tan either naturally or through tanning beds.
The sun’s harmful UV rays are directly responsible for 70% of melanomas and 95% of other skin cancers. In light of these alarming statistics, the question remains why would teens continually disregard sun safety lessons designed to keep them safe and healthy?
We think that the way the information is being presented is improperly balanced. Sun safety is overemphasized at the expense of sufficiently educating students about the consequences of overexposure to UV rays.
MEF lessons do include sun safety information of course, but they start by focusing the students’ attention on melanoma itself; what it really is, what it does and how it does it. This is tremendously important, because melanoma is the skin cancer most likely to affect them all the way from infancy into adulthood.
Our lessons start with providing key information about melanoma.
- That teens are susceptible to melanoma right now
- How melanoma develops and spreads to other parts of the body
- Its risk factors and warning signs
- How (and how often) to self-examine their skin for early signs of the disease
- How easy melanoma is to cure if it’s found early- and how lethal it is if found too late
The second part of the lessons focus on the role that UV radiation plays in causing melanoma, and how to reduce the risks from it.
It’s important that the lesson topics are presented in the correct order: melanoma first, sun safety second. To a teen sitting in a classroom, a sun safety talk may sound very much like a parental lecture on brushing their teeth or washing their hands. In other words, just the sort of white noise they’d be likely to tune out.
However, when melanoma is explained to teens; when right off the bat they’re informed (and, also importantly, shown) just how much damage this disease can inflict, they are much more likely to take sun safety seriously and give it the respect it commands.
A teacher survey that we recently conducted regarding the impact of MEF’s lessons yielded some very positive results. Among them:
- 73% of teachers reported that students made appointments to get moles checked after receiving the lessons
- 14.8% of teachers were told by students that early melanomas were found because of the lessons
- 34% of teachers said students found precancerous moles because of the lessons
- After the lessons, 95% of teachers reported students said they would use more sunscreen, and 81% reported students said they would stop using tanning beds
That is very encouraging data. Our previous blog post on this specific survey provides additional positive results regarding the impact of the lessons on teachers and their families. For more details about the survey, read Teacher Survey Confirms Effectiveness of Melanoma Lessons.
Sun Safety-Based Lessons are Ineffective for Educating Teens About Skin Cancer
*Information source articles: MEF Fall 2017 Newsletter Article, Prospective Study of Sunburn and Sun Behavior Patterns During Adolescence, Pediatrics. Feb 2012; 129(2): 309–317, Sun-protective behaviors in populations at high risk for skin cancer, Psychology Research and Behavior Management, December 20, 2013, Indoor Tanning Is Not Safe, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Updated January 24, 2017, Melanoma Knowledge and Sun Protection Attitudes and Behaviors Among College Students by Gender and Skin Type, American Journal of Health Education, Sept/Oct 2005, Vol 36, No. 5