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DES MOINES, Iowa – Minors below the age of 18 would be banned from using tanning devices offered by Iowa businesses under a Senate bill given initial approval Thursday by backers who view the health risks similar to tobacco use and the lure similar to alcohol addiction.
Medical experts told members of a Senate subcommittee that the popularity of tanning salons and tanning booths have increased dramatically and so have the incidence of melanoma and skin cancer among people in the 18-40 age range – especially women – due to exposure to ultraviolet rays.
"The ban makes sense," said Kate Walton, a lobbyist for the Iowa Medical Society, who noted that state laws currently prevent kids 17 years old and younger from getting a tattoo and purchasing or possessing tobacco or alcohol products. The current laws also require parental consent for body piercings.
Dr. Leslie Christenson, an Ames dermatologist, said there are many societal reinforcements associated with tanned skin, but the negative effects of ultraviolet radiation and exposure to carcinogens are heightened for people who tan in their teen years.
"It almost seems that for some teenagers at least seeking tanning is almost an addictive behavior," said Christenson. "We know tanning makes people feel good. There's no wrong behind that." She likened the effect to a "runner's high," but she cautioned that the risks were similar to exposure to tobacco or asbestos.
However, Matt Eide, a lobbyist for the American Suntan Association, argued against Senate File 248.
"We believe that this type of ban will move teenagers to aggressively sun tan outdoors or turn to unregulated home tanning units where the dangers and risks are higher than what we have now with a regulated industry," he said.
Sen. Nancy Boettger, R-Harlan, said she believed the decision should be left to parents.
"Kids ought to look to their parents rather than just to the government," she said.
"If it's bad thing, let's just ban it for everybody. If not, I think it's the parents' responsibility," Boettger added. "Laying on a tanning bed is not as dangerous to a kid as having an abortion, and we allow that to happen."
Quirmbach countered that the tanning ban was in line with other state laws protecting minors.
"This is potentially addictive behavior, as cigarette smoking is. It's a potentially cancer-causing experience, which cigarette smoking is," he said. "We have prohibited people under the age of 18 from engaging in that. Over 18, they can make up their own minds."
The bill prohibits a tanning facility from allowing individuals under 18 years of age to use a tanning device. It also provides that that a written warning statement be provided to each customer prior to use of a tanning device and that warning signs associated with tanning be free from obstruction. A tanning facility found to violate the proposed bill's provisions would subject to a civil penalty and injunctive relief.
The Senate Human Resources Committee would have to approve the bill by the end of next week for it to remain eligible for consideration this session.