Opinion

Seeing red over school sunscreen ban

From the Editorial Board

Tacoma mother Jesse Michener, left, checks on daughters Zoe, center, and Violet, right, who had slathered on aloe vera and other sunburn lotions after being burned by the sun during field day activities at Point Defiance Elementary School. Zoe, who has a albinism condition, and fair-skinned sisters Violet and 7-year-old Eleanor (not pictured) all went home with severe sunburns.
Tacoma mother Jesse Michener, left, checks on daughters Zoe, center, and Violet, right, who had slathered on aloe vera and other sunburn lotions after being burned by the sun during field day activities at Point Defiance Elementary School. Zoe, who has a albinism condition, and fair-skinned sisters Violet and 7-year-old Eleanor (not pictured) all went home with severe sunburns. Staff file, 2012

Don’t be fooled by the record-breaking liquid sunshine that has fallen virtually uninterrupted since last fall. Ignore the false prophets who would have you believe the Puget Sound’s famously gray days blot out the sun’s harmful rays.

You’d better believe medical experts when they say Washington is among the states where skin cancer is most prevalent. In a country where 5 million people are treated for it each year, Washington has the eighth-highest rate of melanoma, the most lethal form of skin cancer, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Blame it, in part, on our pale epidermis for throwing up the white flag so fast when the sun finally does show its face.

It doesn’t help that our state does a lousy job teaching kids to have a healthy respect for the sun. Washington law goes so far as to discourage basic steps school children should take to protect themselves against the ultraviolet onslaught.

For far too long, sunblock has been treated like a contraband drug in the hands of students, while brain block has prevailed among adults.

Lawmakers in Olympia finally corrected years of ignorance this week. The Senate followed the House in unanimously approving a bill allowing students to have topical sunscreen on public school property and at school activities.

Because these products are regulated as over-the-counter items by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, kids were heretofore required to have a note from a parent or physician, like they do for medications. Otherwise: No sunscreen for you!

(Meanwhile, some sly students exploited a loophole by carrying no limit of cosmetics in their backpacks — including some with sun-blocking qualities.You go, girls!)

File this legislation under the label “Nanny state deconstruction projects.” Then cross-reference it under the heading “What took so doggone long?”

The bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Ann Rivers of La Center, summed it up perfectly by calling it a no-brainer.

An official at the state school superintendent’s office told a reporter that sunscreen restrictions hadn’t generated much public concern, saying “this issue was a surprise to us.”

They must not have been paying attention.

In Tacoma alone, complaints have surfaced in recent years about the requirement of a doctor’s note for fifth-graders to bring a tube of sunscreen to outdoor camp. And in 2012, a TNT columnist wrote about three girls in one family who went to the hospital with severe sunburns after their Tacoma elementary school field day. Their mom didn’t apply sunscreen in the morning because the day started out rainy. Even if she had, it would have sweated off during a full day of outdoor fun and games.

Soon they can slather it on at school with impunity, after the governor signs the bill.

Like students who turn in an assignment late, state leaders should receive partial credit for changing the law. But we’re scratching our heads over an amendment adopted before final passage; in the bill’s first sentence, which originally said students could “possess and apply” sunscreen, it now simply says “possess.”

The bill later says that applying it is OK, but why make the language needlessly muddled?

No word on whether kids will be required to have a concealed-carry permit on campus.

Skin cancer researchers have long preached that one bad sunburn in childhood can double the chance of developing melanoma later. But astonishingly, Washington is not alone in catching up with dermatological doctrine.

Oregon and California are among the states to authorize sunscreen at school in recent years. A total of seven states are considering legislation this year — including Arizona, land of 1,000 sunburns.

That it took so long to figure this out should leave them all feeling red-faced.

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