A client soaks up UV rays in a stand-up booth at the Citrine Glow salon in West… (Christina House, For The…)
Reporting from Sacramento — California's beleaguered indoor tanning industry, after being hit with a new federal tax, is fighting to hold on to a sizable piece of its clientele: teenagers.
On Monday, a state Senate committee approved a bill that would make California the first state in the nation to ban those under age 18 from using ultraviolet tanning beds and similar devices.
The bill's author, state Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), shepherded the bill out of the Business and Professions Committee in time to meet an evening deadline for passage. The bill still must be approved by the Appropriations Committee before it goes to the full Senate.
State law already requires those 14 to 18 to get written parental permission to use commercial UV facilities.
Too much exposure to ultraviolet rays can cause various types of skin cancer, said Lieu, who is sponsoring the legislation on behalf of the California Society of Dermatology and Dermatological Surgery and other health-related organizations.
"The damage to your skin is cumulative," Lieu said. "The more exposure to tanning beds you have early in life, the worse it will be for you in later life."
Citing federal government and health industry reports, he warned that indoor tanning was a leading cause of cancer deaths for people from 18 to 25 years old.
The tanning industry disagrees. Moderate tanning bed use is safer than outdoor sunbathing, the Indoor Tanning Assn. trade group contends.
"No well-designed studies support the connection" between a form of malignant skin cancer known as melanoma and "UV exposure from tanning beds," the group states on its website.
Besides, keeping teens from using regulated tanning salons would simply drive them to use unregulated home UV appliances, warned Joe Levy, executive director of the International Smart Tan Network.
"You're going to create a garage, underground tanning industry with this bill," he told the state Senate committee.
Lieu's proposal, SB 746, is an example of an overreaching California government that already has the strictest regulations of all 50 states, said Paul Walker, owner of Bronz Body Tan in Los Angeles.
"It's just another attack on the tanning business," Walker said. "The Obama [healthcare law] tax is a 10% hit, and if you eliminate those under the age of 18, there'll be another economic impact."
State regulations on top of U.S. Food and Drug administration oversight have made it more expensive for tanning salons to keep their doors open during difficult economic times, the Indoor Tanning group said.
About a fifth of the largely independently owned tanning outlets have closed recently, the association said. Prohibiting teenagers from using the beds adds another burden that could eliminate as many as 10% of current customers.
Walker said his business was down as much as 15% and was likely to get worse if the state keeps trying to play "nanny" to its citizenry.
"We are grown-ups and don't need people telling us how much soda to drink or tanning to get," he said, "and then taxing us to implement all that."
But teenagers are not grown-ups, Lieu countered in testimony before the state Senate Business and Professions Committee.
"We don't let parents consent to have kids buy a pack of cigarettes or a bottle of vodka," he said. Tanning is "incredibly dangerous."
Multiple scientific studies show a direct causal connection between indoor tanning beds and deadly cancer, and the World Health Organization has classified tanning beds as a Level 1 carcinogen, the same as plutonium and cigarettes, Lieu said.
About 1 million Americans regularly use tanning beds; about 70% are women, primarily 16 to 29 years old, Lieu said. People who used tanning beds before age 35 increased their lifetime risk of getting melanoma, a skin cancer, 75%.
That's what happened to Lisa Andrews, a teacher from the Sacramento suburb of Carmichael, who testified that she used a tanning bed several times a week between the ages of 16 and 21. At 35, she was diagnosed with Stage 1 malignant melanoma, which was subsequently removed successfully.
"My dermatologist believes it is very likely that my use of indoor tanning beds played a major role in my development of a melanoma at such a young age," she said.