While a recent study showed that nine of 11 Northeastern states have bucked the national trend of rising melanoma incidence and death rates, Maine was not among them. Here in Maine, we have seen steady increases in both incidence and death rates from melanoma from 2003 to 2013. What can we do to reverse this trend? One solution is by enacting legislation that would protect youth from using indoor tanning devices.
Indoor tanning devices are not safe at any age, but are especially harmful to youth, due to the cumulative nature of UV radiation. In fact, indoor tanning device use before the age of 35 increases melanoma risk by 59 percent. At a recent hearing, lawmakers heard from melanoma survivors and families who lost loved ones to this disease. Their message was resoundingly clear: We must act to protect youth from the dangers of indoor tanning, and the laws currently on the books are simply insufficient.
The Legislature is currently considering a bill which would protect youth from the dangers of UV radiation. A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers from across the state, as well as advocacy groups including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, have already voiced their support for LD 889, An Act to Reduce Youth Cancer Risk.
This legislation would prohibit tanning facilities from allowing children under the age of 18 to use indoor tanning devices without exceptions. To date, Washington, D.C. and 15 states, including New Hampshire, North Carolina and most recently West Virginia and Oklahoma, have passed similar comprehensive legislation prohibiting the use of tanning devices by minors, without exception, to protect their state’s youth.
We protect Maine’s youth from cigarettes, asbestos and other Group 1 carcinogens. And we, as parents, have been fortunate to watch our children grow up in healthier environments than previous generations. However, being exposed to the dangerous UV radiation emitted from indoor tanning devices — devices which are also classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by national and international groups, meaning we know they cause cancer — are not similarly regulated. This is a dangerous missed opportunity.
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer and is one of the most common types of cancer in young people, especially young girls who tend to use tanning devices more frequently. As mothers ourselves, we work every day to make sure our kids are protected from known hazards. However, we also know that kids are subjected daily to influences that can work to counteract these efforts.
Cultural and peer pressure to “look good,” parental support of tanning, tanning industry marketing and geographic proximity to a tanning facility are proven contributors to adolescents’ likelihood to tan indoors. According to one study, adolescents aged 14-17 were 80 percent more likely to tan indoors if they believed people with a tan look more attractive or felt that their parents allowed them to use indoor tanning. Fortunately, studies show that age restrictions can be effective at reducing teen tanning rates — and here in Maine, we are in particular need of this type of action.
While keeping all minors out of tanning devices won’t eliminate skin cancer or melanoma, it will go a long way toward reducing one of the most commonly diagnosed diseases among young people. Given what is known about the harmful effects of UV radiation from indoor tanning devices, especially among youth, we encourage our lawmakers to voice their support to their colleagues and vote to pass LD 889, prohibiting minors from using indoor tanning devices.
Sen. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, is a lead sponsor of LD 889. Hilary Schneider is the Maine government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.