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Bill to Ban Tanning Bed Use by Minors Moves Through California Senate

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Forty-one year old Lisa Andrews lives in Carmichael with her husband and two small children.

(Sound of Andrews playing with her kids)

She spends a lot of time being a mom, and a part-time teacher. During her teenage years, the fair skinned and blonde Andrews spent a lot of time at the tanning salon. She remembers the first time she heard about it.

ANDREWS: I was 16 years old and I was at a football game and several of my friends were out there, and they were cheerleaders there in the fall, and they were bragging about this new tanning bed thing was.  

Andrews said she quickly became addicted to indoor tanning. She went regularly through her early twenties. At 35, she was given a melanoma diagnosis, an uncommon but deadly form of skin cancer. She's certain her tanning habit was a contributing factor.

ANDREWS: The good news is that was 6 years ago, and I'm still here today. Luckily we caught it very early, so I did need a surgery but no other treatment was necessary.

Rates of melanoma have been increasing for three decades.  An agency of the World Health Organization has classified tanning beds as carcinogenic. The industry's own regulator, the Food and Drug Administration makes the link between UV rays and cancer.

Andrews is now a fierce advocate for a new bill in the California legislature that would ban tanning bed use for all minors.

ANDREWS: Teenagers are vein, and they have a difficult time weighing out long term consequences vs. short term gratification especially when it comes to looking good.

SENATOR LEIU: The medical evidence shows that the damage to your skin is cumulative…

That's California State Senator Ted Leiu, the author of the tanning bill.

SENATOR LEIU: The more exposure you have earlier in life, the worse it will be later in life.

That premise - that tanning when you're young increases your health risk - is the heart of his bill. California law already bans tanning bed use for kids under 14, and allows it with parental consent between 14 and 18.

SENATOR LEIU: All we're doing with this bill is extending to 18, for the same reason that we're not letting parents consent to letting their kids to buy cigarettes or drink vodka.

John Overstreet is with the Indoor Tanning Association.  He says the ban would be bad for business - in California, the industry has already shrunk 20% in recent years. But he also thinks the law would have unintended consequences. 

OVERSTREET: If a teenager wants to get a suntan, and you stop them from doing it indoors, that's not going to stop them from getting a suntan. They're going to go outside, where there's no parental supervision, no parental consent required, no trained staff to prevent them from doing anything that would get them from getting overexposed.

Overstreet refutes the claim that parental consent laws may not be fully enforced. He says the UV rays in tanning beds may be more intense than natural sunlight, but the practice is not more dangerous than any other form of tanning.  

OVERSTREET: The bottom is that they are somewhat stronger than the noon day sun, but you don't stay in them for very long.

Yet the FDA says any UV exposure that browns damages the skin - that's what a sun tan is.

(Sound of Tanning Salon)

At this tanning salon in a strip mall in northern Sacramento, several adult women stream in during lunch hour. The owner, Tom Mattley sports a healthy glow himself. He says he educates his customers about safe tanning. He says only three percent of his clients are minors - but the loss of business is not his chief concern with Senator Leiu's legislation.

MATTLEY: I really see this as just another step that's he's taking to ban the industry in general.

Meantime, Lisa Andrews now takes extra precautions to protect herself and her family from UV rays. She teaches her daughters about wearing sunglasses and using strong sunscreen.  

ANDREWS: They're very well protected from the sun. In fact some of my friends tell me that some of my daughters bathing suits look like space suits. But I don't care, as long as they're safe.

If the bill is signed into law, California could become the first state in the nation to ban all minors from using tanning beds.

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