The Skin Cancer Foundation refers to teenagers – girls in particular – in a way that should make parents shudder: They’re “the new faces of melanoma.”
Young women who tan indoors are disproportionately developing the deadliest form of skin cancer. Those aged 18 to 39 are now eight times more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma than they were in 1975. People who use tanning beds are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma, according to the foundation.
That increase has been directly linked to the growth of the indoor tanning industry since the late 1970s. Young women between the ages of 16 and 29 make up 71 percent of indoor tanning customers. Dermatologists who used to see melanomas only in people in their 30s or older are now seeing them in teens and 20-somethings.
Fortunately, Washington is one of 13 states, plus the District of Columbia, that now ban the use of tanning beds by minors. Lawmakers here should be applauded for being in the forefront of this issue, which was pushed for several years by Tacoma state Sen. Jeannie Darneille. The ban went into effect in June 2014.
As is often the case, the states are leading the way for the federal government. The Food and Drug Administration has proposed new regulations that would prevent minors from using indoor tanning beds and give clearer warnings to adults who use them. Sunlamp manufacturers and tanning facilities would also be required to take steps to increase user safety.
Nationwide, an estimated 1.6 milion minors use tanning beds, according to the 2013 National Youth Risk Behavior Study. Because ultraviolet radiation damage is cumulative, the earlier one is exposed to high levels, the greater the risk of melanoma and other conditions, including cataracts and photo-aging.
To those who say an indoor tanning ban smacks of granny statism, consider that young people under 18 are prohibited in most places from smoking cigarettes (another carcinogen) and drinking alcohol. Adults have a responsibility to protect children, and shielding them as much as possible from harmful UV radiation isn’t just smart, it’s right.