This month the U.S. surgeon general’s office issued its first ever call to action against skin cancer, which is striking young people at an alarming rate.
Melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, is now the fourth most common cancer among people age 15-19. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and indoor tanning devices is the primary cause.
Here in Iowa, our long winters drive teens to tan for a variety of reasons — homecoming, prom, spring break — without much thought about the dangers. Use of an indoor tanning device before the age of 35 increases the risk of melanoma by 59 percent. The risk is even higher when used before age 25. These are facts tanning salons don’t publicize with their deep discount packages and teen-friendly timing.
Lawmakers have an important role to play in protecting youth from the harmful effects and intentional manipulation of the tanning industry. Earlier this year, the FDA took the major step of requiring manufacturers to display labels that warn against the use of tanning devices by those under 18. Iowa lawmakers should go further and strengthen that warning to a restriction prohibiting all minors from using tanning devices.
The rate of indoor tanning use increases drastically as high school girls grow older, from about 12 percent among 9th graders to nearly 32 percent among high school seniors.
The misguided quest for an “attractive glow” is coming at the expense of teenage girls’ long-term health. Parents not only need to be aware of these trends and risks, but they also need the support and full force of state law to make sure their teens steer clear of the preventable, but serious consequences of tanning bed exposure. Nine states, including Minnesota, have passed laws restricting tanning bed use to adults over 18 and many more are considering similar measures.
A study published earlier this year in the American Journal of Public Health found high school girls are less likely to use indoor tanning beds if they live in states with laws restricting indoor tanning use.
As the Surgeon General noted, a comprehensive approach is needed to keep the 5 million people treated for skin cancer every year out of the doctor’s office. With this important national focus on skin cancer prevention there has never been a better time for state lawmakers to act.
• Jen Schulte is Iowa Government Relations Director for the American Cancer Society cancer Action Network. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org