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Protect health, override LePage veto on tanning bed ban

Posted April 08, 2013, at 12:29 p.m.

Ships with billowing sails drift down the Nile bearing ointments and dyes for the great queen: amber-colored vials of waxes, balsam from Tyre, powdery green malachite for eye shadow, red ochre and henna for the lips, or, if the queen prefers, a shiny dark paste made from lead.

The use of harmful ingredients in cosmetics is as long as the history of cosmetics itself. Lead, arsenic, and antimony were added to the eye shadow of Egypt and Rome with disastrous results. Lead compounds were used as skin whiteners up until modern times, and other more dangerous compounds were applied to hair dyes and hair removers.

The victims of these untested and unregulated experiments in cosmetic chemistry were women, and it was a woman, Ruth De Forest Lamb, whose journalistic efforts to ban the use of harmful substances in cosmetics led to the founding of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Maine is now confronted with a similar problem, the use of a harmful ingredient for cosmetic purposes. The harmful ingredient in this case is ultraviolet light. On April 4, Gov. Paul LePage announced that he had vetoed LD 272, a bill passed by the Maine Legislature that would have prevented anyone under the age of 18 from using a tanning bed. The Legislature must now decide whether to override the governor’s veto.

Light is the enabler, sustainer and nourisher of life on earth, and visible light reveals all that is good and beautiful in the world. All children naturally draw the sun as a golden face with a benevolent smile.

But no one gets a tan from visible light. Ultraviolet light, which is invisible, damages the skin; and prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light causes skin cancer, including melanoma, a particularly aggressive and deadly form of cancer.

The statistics on the incidence of melanoma in young people are shocking. The incidence of melanoma among young people increased by 800 percent from 1970 to 2009, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. What is truly astonishing is that the rate among young women is twice the rate in young males, and tanning beds are the cause. The use of tanning beds by young people can double or triple the risk of melanoma.

Melanin offers some protection against skin cancer by changing ultraviolet light into harmless heat energy. But those most likely to use tanning salons are those who have less melanin and are at a higher risk for skin cancer.

The opposition to a ban on tanning beds for minors is based on an appeal to personal liberty. Yet no one has the right to sell a product for cosmetic purposes if that product contains a harmful ingredient, and ultraviolet light, in a manner of speaking, is just such a harmful ingredient.

If a particular tanning lotion contained an ingredient which resulted in the death of some of its users, that tanning lotion would be banned post haste. Four other states have already banned the use of tanning beds by minors. California and Vermont ban the use of tanning beds for all minors. New Jersey and Wisconsin ban their use for those under the age of 17. Thirty-three other states regulate the use of tanning beds by minors. Ten states are currently considering legislation which will ban the use of tanning beds by minors outright.

Ultraviolet light is also used for medical purposes, and hence several states are proposing that tanning beds can be used by minors, but only with the permission of a physician, under strictly controlled conditions.

This is the plain and unadorned truth. The use of tanning beds by minors greatly increases the risk of skin cancer, and the risk is borne disproportionately by young women.

No one should use an appeal to freedom in order to put beauty and skin cancer on an equal footing. The Maine Legislature of Maine has the clear duty to regulate the use of tanning beds by minors, up to and including banning the practice outright.

Fritz Spencer of Old Town is the former editor of the Christian Civic League RECORD.

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