Tanning beds: the new tobacco

Daniel MacEachern
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Dermatologist calling for tanning bed ban in N.L., but salon owner says industry 'easy target'

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Dermatologist Ian Landells and tanning salon owner Vic Lawlor can agree on at least one thing: tanning beds are the new cigarettes.

But for Landells, that means they shouldn't be used by anyone younger than 19. For Lawlor, that means they're an easy target for overregulating legislators.

Landells, the former president of the Canadian Dermatology Association, has for several years been working to have laws passed to prevent minors from using tanning beds.

"These products emit ultraviolet radiation," he said. "In my mind, they should be treated like tobacco, and restricted to those who are the age of majority, which is 19 and older in Newfoundland."

Landells said regulating tanning beds shouldn't be any different from regulating tobacco.

"In our minds, tanning beds are the cigarette of today," he said. "They are the equivalent of cigarettes 40 years ago. We now realize that they cause cancer and we need to restrict them."

Lawlor, the founder of tanning salon chain Arizona Heat - which has eight locations in Newfoundland and one in Nova Scotia - says the government shouldn't get involved in making parental decisions.

"Realistically, three to five per cent of our business is under 18," he said. "Ninety-five per cent of our business are working professionals that basically are going down south and want to get a base tan before they go, and that's it. We get a few grads. We're not really big on grads, but we will get a few 17-, 18-year-olds that are graduating this year that come in and buy a $20 package and want to get a bit of colour for grad pictures."

Lawlor said Arizona Heat's policy is that anyone younger than 18 who wants to use a tanning bed has to have parental consent. He says legislation that restricts the tanning industry is unfairly demonizing a service people use for self-esteem and health reasons.

"It's a recreational thing. People use it because they want to feel good and look good," he said. "You get a few people coming in with psoriasis, older people that use it because they can't get in to see a dermatologist and it only costs $5 for a tan rather than milking the government for a $200 fee."

But Landells called the idea of a "base tan" being necessary before going a tropical vacation a misconception, one of several that the tanning industry uses to promote its services.

"They think you go to get a base tan before you go south, that will help your skin protect yourself. That's false. It does not protect itself. They promote that it gives you high Vitamin D levels. That's false. They're actually very inefficient at giving you Vitamin D, and you get massive doses. It's like five times as much radiation as you get from noonday sun. They're very dangerous."

Lawlor says there are much bigger issues for governments to concentrate on than teen tanning.

"You've got obesity. You've got diabetes. You've got teen pregnancy. You've got drugs. You've got peer pressure. You've got bullying," he said. "If that's their biggest focus, to attack a teen tanning ban, I think it's a little bit overstepping their bounds. That's the concern I have."

It's a concern rising again, as the provincial government of British Columbia recently announced plans to ban the use of tanning beds for anyone younger than 18, following a similar ban in Nova Scotia. New Brunswick enacted a bylaw in the early '90s. Landells was part of a group from the Canadian Dermatology Association that last fall made the case for a ban to former health minister Jerome Kennedy.

While Landells felt their presentation was well-received, there hasn't been any movement on the part of the provincial government.

"We did a presentation along with Dr. Peter Green from Halifax, who helped get them banned in Nova Scotia, for kids under 19," he said. "We seemed to open their eyes, and they said, 'This seems like an obvious thing to do. We need to explore what our position is and we'll get back to you.' I've written back, but I've heard nothing since. So they seemed receptive at the time, but I don't think it's a big priority for them."

Victoria banned teens from using tanning beds last year in a municipal bylaw, but when Landells spoke to St. John's councillors, they told him the city doesn't have the authority to pass such a bylaw here.

"I've tried every level," he says. "It's silly, because this is a known carcinogen. The World Health Organization rated these as a Type-1 carcinogen, alongside tobacco and asbestos and arsenic. Artifical tanning is in the same category of causing cancer as those agents. according to the World Health Organization. Many countries around the world have banned them for kids. Brazil in fact banned them outright."

But Lawlor said the tanning industry is being unfairly demonized.

"Here's what I compare it to," he said. "They've got the cigarette smokers smoking pretty much around the back of the dumpster, now, so they've gotta target someone. And we're a really easy target."

Not all business owners with tanning beds would disagree with a ban. Novalee Colbert, who owns A Cut Above, a hairstyling salon that also has a tanning bed, says she doesn't allow teenagers to use the bed.

"I don't let anyone under 18 tan in my salon," she said. "I'm trying to get rid of my tanning bed, actually, because I just don't like it. ... I just think it causes cancer, and I don't think it's good for you. That's just me."

Colbert said she doesn't actually get many teenagers even asking for the service in the first place. "You might have a scattered one when grad comes around."

The provincial Health Department turned down The Telegram's request for an interview, providing instead a written statement: "As part of its mandate of promoting optimal health and well-being, the Department of Health and Community Services monitors developments in the research and policy arena to ensure our services, policies and legislation are modern, evidence based and meet the needs of the population. The department is considering the evidence and monitoring the evolution of tanning bed policies in other jurisdictions to assess potential policy responses."

Without support from local or provincial levels of government, Landells has tried appealing to teens directly, but finds warnings of long-term health consequences don't have much effect.

"They're typical teenagers. They have absolutely no sense of consequences of their actions, so they just say, 'Oh, I don't care about cancer,'" he said. "They care about vanity, so I actually don't talk about cancer to them. I talk about how it ages their skin and makes you look old really fast."

dmaceachern@thetelegram.com Twitter: TelegramDaniel

Organizations: Canadian Dermatology Association, World Health Organization, Health Department Department of Health and Community

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, British Columbia New Brunswick Victoria St. John's Brazil

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Recent comments

  • evelyn
    May 16, 2012 - 01:26

    44 years old - I don't know I single person that has died from skin cancer.....I do know hundreds that have died from all other types of cancer.....Lack of vitamin D has been linked to other types of cancer including skin cancer. I will take my chances and tan smartly (no burning, moderation etc...) and increase my chance of NOT getting all the other cancers and risk the chance of skin cancer

  • brent
    May 16, 2012 - 01:22

    Here we go again.....The sun is classified as a carcinogen type 1. This means it can kill you by causing cancer....therefore so does a tanning bed. Lets see Sun - we have life No Sun - we all die and so does the earth Lets all avoid the sun.......just like our ancestors for the past 10,000 years and see what happens....hummm all cancer rates are significantly on the rise in the past 50 years....what is causing that.....people hiding from the sun...lack of vitamin D....do the research and you will be surprised what you will find

  • Umpah Lumpah
    April 09, 2012 - 12:41

    @CAROLE: Many in the Middle East associate dark skinned people with those who are forced to work outdoors (construction workers, street vendors, etc). These people are often considered lower class than those who have the 'luxury' of working inside in an air-conditioned office. So over there it's more of a class thing than a health thing.

    • Carole
      April 09, 2012 - 13:13

      I don't disagree with you "Umpah Lumpah." I still feel it's sad that people can't be happy with whatever skin colour they were naturally born with.

    • Carole
      April 09, 2012 - 13:42

      I never said that dark skinned people using skin lightening creams was a "health thing," (although as it turns out, it is indeed just that, as the creams can be toxic).

  • twocents
    April 09, 2012 - 11:48

    Who is Lawlor trying to kid saying teenagers only make up 3% of the business? That's a load on bunk. Tanning especially for girls who are graduating is the thing to do. It's right up there with getting your hair, make up and nails done. Someone should do an expose to see if they will refuse the teens business when they don't have a parent with them. I sincerely doubt that happens.

    • newfie lady
      April 09, 2012 - 13:07

      Exactly what I was thinking, TwoCents. I've been tanning maybe 15 times and each time I am walking into a salon with about 10 teens waiting to get a bed... teens no more than 16 years old.

  • Carole
    April 09, 2012 - 10:40

    It's interesting to me that many dark skinned women of the world harbour a deep desire to have lighter skin. I used to live in the Middle East where, generally speaking, the population have dark skin (as compared to Caucasian). Every cosmetics counter in the city where I lived sold skin lightening creams. At that time, I new one woman in particular who had extremely dark skin. One day I noted her to be staring sadly down at her hands and rubbing them. When I asked her why she looked so sad, she said, "I wish my skin was lighter." It was such as shame to hear her say that, because she was an extraordinarly beautiful looking young woman - gorgeous figure, facial features, hair and smile. Too bad we couldn't all see the beauty in what we naturally possess - whether it be light skin or dark skin.

  • Who wants to be orange anyway?
    April 09, 2012 - 10:02

    I think tanning beds are horrible. You see these people going around that obviously use them all the time and their skin is an awful orangey colour, not to mention the lovely crocodile skin look that accompanies it. I personally don't see the attraction of it all. As a 30 year old woman, I take great care of my skin. I don't go outside in the summer without sun block on (I use spf 45 on my body, and 70 on my face). Even using sun block all summer, I still manage to get colour which is not a goal for me. But just imagine how damaging the sun is to still be able to do this even with the sunscreen I use. Then think about people lying in a tanning bed, getting extreme doses in small time frames while wearing acceleration creams to speed up the process! These people will regret it when they're 40 and look like they're 65, or when they're sitting in a cancer clinic getting a whole new form of radiation. I'm all for the ban or at least making it a legal age decision. Sun and tanning bed do serious damage. Burning, blistering, peeling, age spots, cancer, the list goes on. Is a "bit of colour" for a grad picture really worth that? I doubt it.

  • Dear Sixteen Year Old Me
    April 09, 2012 - 09:59

    If tanning bed salon owners were better educated on the effects of tanning beds and tanning (naturally) in general, we probably wouldn't have to ban the beds as the owners would stop providing the service if they had a conscience. Or if the general public became better educated on this matter, the tanning salons would survive. Youtube the video: Dear 16 Year Old Me.

  • David
    April 09, 2012 - 09:45

    Bravo. Someone gets it! But tanning beds aren't the new tobacco, simply vecasue you're not going to use them for life, just while you're young and immortal. Artificial tanning is more like a "Jackass" stunt peformed without the cameras rolling. And, like all voluntary life-endangering behaviors, should make the perpetrators ineligible for free health care treatment. Adding these kinds of totally selfish, idiotic, entirely preventable costs to an already bankrupt system is purely anti-social behavior...so society shouldn't pick up the tab. For those who find themselves broke and needing financial help to pay, find the person who rented you the tanning bed. (BTW, the guy who sold you any cigarettes gets a pass, becasue governments have been that poison's silent partner in taking a cut of the action all along...but who'd expect anything less from that bunch of money-addicted hypocrites?)

  • Wanda
    April 09, 2012 - 09:42

    Susan, are you serious? Get a grip on reality. I watched my aunt become deformed because she lost her nose to surgery due to skin cancer, as well as suffer other consequences because of it.

  • Mount Pearl Guy
    April 09, 2012 - 09:31

    Sure let them than, then when they are 40 they'll look like they are 60 years old

  • Margaret
    April 09, 2012 - 09:30

    The irony of it all.....we are killing people because their skin is brown or black, then there's the horrors of racism, etc., and here we are (white people) killing ourselves to get "brown" !!!! Common sense would tell anyone that tanning beds are doing harm, and in years to come they will realize that when it is too late with the words that they have skin cancer.

  • Randy
    April 09, 2012 - 09:25

    For Robb - guess you didn't read the whole article "They think you go to get a base tan before you go south, that will help your skin protect yourself. That's false. It does not protect itself. They promote that it gives you high Vitamin D levels. That's false. They're actually very inefficient at giving you Vitamin D, and you get massive doses. It's like five times as much radiation as you get from noonday sun. They're very dangerous."

  • susan k
    April 09, 2012 - 08:40

    I agree with lawlor we should be able to tan if we want,smoke if we want or drink if we want its not fair to say we shouldnt be aloud everything we do is not good for us the food we eat even has chemicals if we listened to everything we wouldnt be able to move it should be our choice something is eventually going to kill us anyway weather it be the food we eat drinking smoking tanning or getting hit by a car

    • Seriously??
      April 09, 2012 - 10:11

      You're agreeing with the person that is making money off you? See the problem here? They're hardly going to be all for the ban. But for now it's your choice, the point is to take the choice from people that aren't smart enough to make the right one and who will later cost the smart ones thousands when they go get their cancer treatments. Maybe you've been one of the lucky ones who hasn't witnessed someone go through cancer. I'm sure if you had you wouldn't voluntarily be putting yourself at risk. Smarten up.

  • Robb
    April 09, 2012 - 08:26

    I have to say I use them to tan up before going south.......off to Cuba soon, so I have been tanning for the last two months......maybe a little too much, but I can assure you, I will not make the same mistake that I made there 4 years ago......went to Punta Cana without tanning first, and got a hell of a burn......thought I could take it, but Punta Cana sun is stronger than Florida.............................now it is tan a bit before I go, and use plenty of sun screen.....

  • Ford Elms
    April 09, 2012 - 08:20

    If we started saying to people with a tan: "Oh, my, you've got some lot of damage done to your skin!" instead of complimenting them, there wouldn't be as much use of tanning bads. Make it unpopular to have a tan, a sign of skin damage, potential cancer later in life, and perhaps throw in a bit of comment on some people's insecurity. It worked with smoking.

  • Steve
    April 09, 2012 - 07:23

    From a NY Times article from August 11, 2011: "People who frequently use tanning beds experience changes in brain activity during their tanning sessions that mimic the patterns of drug addiction, new research shows. Scientists have suspected for some time that frequent exposure to ultraviolet radiation has the potential to become addictive, but the new research is the first to actually peer inside the brains of people as they lay in tanning beds." http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/12/how-tanning-changes-the-brain/?scp=1&sq=tanning&st=cse

    • flexxa
      April 09, 2012 - 07:41

      "Fake-n-Bake!" :(

    • Joe Schuster
      April 09, 2012 - 09:10

      So, therefore, runners suffer from same as drug addiction? Well, peer inside of this: Endorphins are the brain’s naturally occurring opiates and are related to decreased pain perception and an increased sense of well-being. It's this flood of endorphins that results in mood changes, such as euphoria and the famed "runner's high." http://sportsmedicine.about.com/od/anatomyandphysiology/qt/Runners-High.htm

    • Steve
      April 09, 2012 - 13:12

      Joe Schuster: It's probably the same thing as the "runner's high" yes, but running is good for you, tanning is bad for you.