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UV or not UV? A little-noticed provision in the new healthcare package adds a 10% levy to the cost of tanning sessions.

March 27, 2010|By Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Eydie McNeill was fuming about the newly passed healthcare bill, but her rage had nothing to do with socialism, death panels or the deficit.

She just likes a good tan, and because of a provision in the bill that puts a 10% additional tax on tanning salon fees, her sessions are probably going to cost her more.

"I'm angry. I'm really disappointed by all this," said McNeill, 51, waiting for a tanning bed at the Tanning Club in Westwood. "It just feels like we're being taxed for everything nowadays."

She was not just thinking of herself. McNeill is a sorority house mom at Gamma Phi Beta at UCLA.

"A lot of my girls tan, most of them, and they don't have a lot of extra money," she said. "They're students, most students live on a tight budget."

The tan tax, which the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation estimated would raise about $2.7 billion over the next decade to help offset the cost of the healthcare overhaul, was one of the lesser known provisions of the hotly debated package.

It was a replacement measure. Previously, the bill contained a so-called Botax on plastic surgery, but the nip-and-tuck crowd was able to get that provision snipped and the tanning levy, which goes into effect July 1, went in instead.

"I'm being singled out by my government, and there is nothing I can do about it," said Wayne LaVassar, who owns 16 salons in Southern California that use ultraviolet-light tanning beds. "Folks that are directly affected don't have a strong enough lobby to be heard."

Well, there is the Indoor Tanning Assn., located in Washington, which organized a failed letter-writing campaign among the well-bronzed. But the tan tax is just one of the industry's troubles.

Officials with the Food and Drug Administration, which already recommends "avoiding artificial UV sources such as tanning beds entirely" because of health concerns, met Thursday to consider increasing federal restrictions that could include a minimum age for users.

Rudy Artavia, who owns two salons named Citrine Glow, said the tanning business has gotten tough enough without the burden of an extra tax.

"This tax is just going to kill thousands of small businesses," Artavia said. "I'm already pulling money out of my savings just to keep one of my salon's open."

George Torbay, who owns the Tanning Club, didn't see it as such a dire situation. But the new tax will have an effect.

"The first thing I'm going to do is cut prices by 10%," he said. "I think everyone is going to do that, which means this tax will really be coming out of our pockets.

"Then if that doesn't work, I'm going to cut hours and I'll pay my employees less."

Many die-hard tanners are not going to be driven away by the levy, even if their salons don't absorb the cost.

Stan Shipley, an architect and regular patron of Citrine Glow salons, usually pays $15 for 15 minutes on a tanning bed.

"That's an extra $1.50," he said of the tax. "That's the price of a Coca-Cola."

Jennifer Alden, 26, who goes to Le Beach Club Tanning in the Fairfax district, doesn't have to worry about the new tax. She gets light-less, spray-on tan treatments that won't be affected by the new levy.

"Spray-on tanning doesn't feel as good when you're doing it," Alden said. "It's cold and it's really wet for about 60 seconds, but it has no negative side-effects."

Laura Rolban, 41, who uses the Le Beach Club's tanning beds, looked at the bright side.

"As much as I don't like the tax, it is going to help pay for healthcare," said Rolban, who works at a shipping and packing store. "And if this helps get people healthcare who didn't have it before, then it's all worth it."

For sorority mom McNeill, however, there was no upside. In fact, the tax will probably change her tanning routine.

"I'll probably be cutting back to tanning twice a week instead of about three times a week," she said.

nathan.olivarezgiles

@latimes.com

Andrew Zajac in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.

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