American Cancer Society: Save lives, restrict minors from tanning beds

Prom season will be upon us soon and that means many young Montanans will seek a bronze glow to go with formal attire for their memorable high school events ahead. Little do they know that research shows using indoor tanning devices before the age of 35 increases melanoma by 59 percent, which could put their lives at risk.

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S. and rates have been rising for the past 30 years. Melanoma accounts for only about one percent of skin cancers but causes a large majority of skin cancer deaths. The current increase in melanoma in adults is the result of exposure to UV radiation starting in childhood and young adult years. Therefore, preventing exposure to UV radiation as early as possible in a person’s life is critical.

State legislation recently introduced could do just that—saving lives and enormous health care costs.  Senate Bill (SB) 21 would restrict minors from using tanning beds similar to how tobacco sales are restricted to those 18 and over.

Studies indicate that one in nine high school girls uses a tanning device, with numbers increasing to one in six by their senior year. Some teens think tanning beds are safer than the sun. Nothing could be further from the truth. It isn’t only about damaging the skin through sunburns; Montana has one of the highest incidence of melanoma the United States, surpassing states like Florida, Hawaii, and California.  Nationwide, melanoma is the second most common form of cancer in females age 15-29.

The World Health Organization has now classified ultraviolet (UV) indoor tanning devices as carcinogenic to humans at a level similar to other carcinogens such as tobacco, benzene and asbestos. No tan is considered safe. For young people who tan, the risk of developing skin cancer is even higher because of the cumulative nature of UV exposure over a lifetime.

That’s why the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network’s (ACS CAN) and the Cancer Support Community Montana supports SB 21. We see the sorrow and the pain that cancer brings to patients and their loved ones. Preventing youth from exposure to tanning beds will prevent needless suffering and deaths from this devastating disease.

Age restrictions are proven to be effective at reducing exposure to the known carcinogenic effects of indoor tanning devices.  Given what is known about the harmful effects of UV radiation from indoor tanning devices, especially among youth, we ask lawmakers to protect Montana youth by prohibiting those under the age of 18 from using indoor tanning devices.

Similar protections for children have been in place for years; Montana has minimum age standards to purchase tobacco and alcohol, for example.  Restricting access to indoor tanning device use based on the legal age of adulthood, 18 years, is no different.

We urge you to help secure this bill’s passage in the 2019 legislative session. The public’s support of this bill could help with its passage, which will directly decrease the incidence of skin cancer, lower the costs of health care, and minimize risk to our youth.  SB 21 could literally save lives. Let’s do what we can to protect young people from skin cancer.

We strongly urge our state lawmakers to support the passage of SB 21. Montana needs to join the list of 17 states already taking action by prohibiting tanning under 18. Please call (406) 444-4800 to leave a message for your state senator asking them to support SB 21!

Kristin Page-Nei is government relations director, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network Montana. Becky Franks is Executive Director, Cancer Support Community Montana,