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Laws Governing Indoor Tanning by Teens Don't Work

Study says lax enforcement probably to blame; experts cite risk of skin cancer

MONDAY, Dec. 8 (HealthDay News) -- Policies enacted by states to restrict and limit indoor tanning by children under 18 aren't working, cancer researchers report.

That's a worrisome trend, because ultraviolet radiation, whether from the sun or indoor tanning facilities, has been linked to skin cancer, the most common malignancy in the United States, with 1 million new cases in 2008.

"Policies have little effect," said study co-author Vilma Cokkinides, the American Cancer Society's strategic director of risk factor surveillance.

For the study, Cokkinides and her colleagues measured the effect of state policies by conducting two telephone surveys, one in 1998 and another in 2004. The researchers polled more than 2,800 American children, ages 11 through 18, and their parents and guardians, asking if the teens had used an indoor tanning facility or sunlamp in the year prior.

The results: Use of indoor tanning salons changed very little in the years studied, increasing from 10 percent in 1998 to 11 percent in 2004. When the researchers looked at the habits of teens in states with policies restricting indoor tanning by minors, the change in the rates wasn't considered statistically significant, the study found.

Fifty-eight percent of users reported burns from indoor tanning.

Enforcement issues probably explain why the restrictions aren't working, Cokkinides said. "One study [evaluated by the researchers] looked at enforcement and found poor compliance," she said. "Kids were able to bypass the restriction" either by lying about their age or because the establishment didn't ask, she said.

Nearly all states allow minors to use indoor tanning facilities if they are accompanied by a parent or have their consent, the researchers noted. But more stringent legal measures and more education are needed to reduce indoor tanning by minors, Cokkinides and her colleagues suggested.

The study is published in the Jan. 15, 2009, issue of the journal Cancer. It was funded, in part, by Neutrogena Inc., which makes sun blocks and other skin care products but had no role in the research.

Dr. Elizabeth K. Hale, a board certified dermatologist and a clinical associate professor of dermatology at New York University School of Medicine, called the study findings "disappointing."

Citing a previous call by the World Health Organization for a ban on tanning bed use by minors, Hale, who's also a spokeswoman for the Skin Cancer Foundation, said she agreed that indoor tanning bed use should be prohibited for those under 18. She agrees that more education is needed, such as the foundation's new campaign, "Go With Your Own Glow."

New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) helped author the so-called TAN Act (Tanning Accountability and Notification) of 2007, which would direct the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to re-examine the warning label on tanning beds to ensure it communicates effectively the risk of skin cancer.

The Indoor Tanning Association takes issue with the suggestion that more stringent regulation is needed. The industry standard now is to require parental consent for minors using tanning salons, said John Overstreet, executive director of the Indoor Tanning Association.

"Whether or not a teen gets a suntan should be a decision of the parents," he said. "We strongly support parental consent, but we think child-raising is best left to parents."

More information

To learn more about UV rays and cancer, visit the Skin Cancer Foundation.

SOURCES: Vilma Cokkinides, Ph.D., strategic director, risk factor surveillance, American Cancer Society, Atlanta; Elizabeth K. Hale, M.D., board certified dermatologist, and clinical associate professor of dermatology, New York University School of Medicine, New York City; John Overstreet, executive director, Indoor Tanning Association, Washington, D.C.; office of Rep. Carolyn Maloney, (D-N.Y.), Washington, D.C.; Jan. 15, 2009, Cancer; October 2008, Pigment Cell & Melanoma Research

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