Last month, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced a settlement that banned tanning salons from displaying deceptive advertising about the false health benefits of using tanning beds. Although a sensible and warranted intervention, the act does not go far enough. Simply banning misleading advertising is not adequate enough to deter New Yorkers from using tanning beds. Stricter enforcement of age restrictions, heavy fines for tanning salons that ignore the rules and increased health warnings by local authorities are needed to deter New Yorkers from seeking a dangerous and potentially fatal “healthy glow.”
With the return of spring, many pale New Yorkers who are eager to have a sun-kissed complexion return to local tanning salons without realizing the severe dangers and potentially deadly side effects of tanning. The widespread use of tanning — over 28 million Americans used tanning beds in the last year, with over two million of them teenagers — has substantially elevated the rate of skin cancer in the United States. The National Cancer Institute reported that the number of skin cancer cases has tripled in the last 35 years from 7.9 people per 100,000 to nearly 23.8 people per 100,000. Tanning beds have been a primary cause for this rapid increase. In a nation where there are more tanning salons than there are McDonalds, obtaining a tan can be done quickly and cheaply.
Tanned skin is not healthy skin. In fact, it is the very opposite. Every shade your skin darkens through exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays exponentially increases the risk of melanoma. Despite the requirement of parental consent for children under 17, forged signatures and weak enforcement allow many teenagers to use the beds. An outright ban on the use of tanning beds for minors should be implemented. A bill put before the New York State Legislature in 2011 introduced the parental age restriction. However, the promising bill fell short of providing an outright ban on tanning for people under 18 years old.
Most people who use tanning beds do not realize that visiting the tanning salon can more than double the risk of obtaining skin cancer. New York has been at the forefront of sanctioning against smoking in recent years. Now, it must turn its attention toward an industry that has said in the past “sunlight prevents skin cancer.” Just like other public health concerns, using the beds carries no immediate signs of danger but can prove lethal later in life. Legislators in Albany must act against such vanity.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 28 print edition. Harry Brown is a staff columnist. Harry’s Take is published every Monday. Email him at [email protected]