Despite the ample sunshine available in Southern California, many residents regularly use tanning beds and a number of them use them excessively. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that exposure to ultraviolet radiation from indoor tanning devices (tanning beds, booths, and sun lamps) or from the sun contributes to the risk of skin cancer, including melanoma, which is the type of skin cancer responsible for most deaths. Indoor tanning is common among certain groups, especially among older teens and young adults, adolescent girls and young women, and non-Hispanic whites.
The CDC notes that many young white women are regular users of tanning beds. The agency notes that if current trends continue, one in five Americans, including many young white women, will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. To bring attention to indoor tanning as a public health problem, CDC scientists published two papers in a special issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine to discuss ways to reduce indoor tanning and prevent future cases of skin cancer.
The first paper, “Preventing Skin Cancer Through Reduction of Indoor Tanning: Current Evidence,” led by Meg Watson, MPH explains how indoor tanning is a risk factor for skin cancer and discusses possible ways to reduce the use of tanning beds. The second paper, “Strategies to Reduce Indoor Tanning: Current Research Gaps and Future Opportunities for Prevention,” led by Dawn Holman, MPH presents highlights from a meeting on indoor tanning held by CDC in August 2012, during which participants talked about ways to prevent skin cancer and studies that could be done to inform public health action.
The authors of the two studies note:
- One in three white women between 18 and 21 years of age have tanned indoors in the past 12 months, with an average of more than 27 times per year.
- Many U.S. high school students also use tanning beds often. About half of high school indoor tanners use them 10 or more times per year.
- Nearly three-fourths of tanning salons let people use tanning beds too often.
- State laws on indoor tanning are rarely enforced.
Recent changes in existing or proposed legislation might affect indoor tanning. In May 2013, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed a rule that would strengthen regulation of tanning beds. In addition some municipalities and states, including California, have passed or are considering passing laws making it illegal for children and teens to use tanning beds, or to use them without their parent or guardian being present. Furthermore, some municipalities and states have passed other laws, such as requiring tanning salons to have a license and to make sure people who use tanning beds wear goggles to protect their eyes and only tan for a short time. The CDC notes that any new regulations or laws will probably be more effective if combined with education and other efforts. California is one state that is taking measures to regulate tanning beds. On October 2011, Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 746, a bill that made California the first in the nation to ban all minors from using indoor UV tanning beds. The new law took effect on January 1, 2012.
The World Health Organization classifies tanning beds as a “level 1 carcinogen,” the same as cigarettes… and plutonium. Several European countries, including England and France, currently restrict tanning beds to adults, and Brazil has banned them entirely. SB 746 was supported by numerous medical societies and health groups, including the California Society of Dermatology & Dermatological Surgery, the California Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, Anthem Blue Cross and Kaiser Permanente. The bill also received scientific support from researchers at Stanford, the Cancer Prevention Institute of California, and UCSF, whose recent study found the rate of melanoma has more than doubled among Californian girls and women aged 15 to 39 in high socioeconomic areas.