WEDNESDAY, Oct. 25, 2017 -- Nearly 40 percent of indoor tanning facilities ignore state laws that curb teen tanning, a new survey finds.
To protect teens, most states have laws that prevent or create obstacles to using tanning salons, but nearly 2 million high school kids still get indoor tans, said the researchers who conducted the survey.
"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has classified tanning beds as cancer causing," said the survey's lead researcher, Dr. Erik Stratman, a dermatologist at the Marshfield Clinic in Marshfield, Wis.
Indoor tanning is particularly dangerous for young people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, because it increases their risk for melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer.
Banning indoor tanning for teens might prevent thousands of melanomas and melanoma deaths and the millions spent on treatment, Stratman said.
"While no federal ban exists on indoor tanning of minors, there have been over 40 states and the District of Columbia that passed laws limiting the use of tanning beds for minors," he said. However, Stratman said the survey, conducted by telephone, found that many tanning salons ignore state laws restricting access to minors.
Responsibility for enforcing these laws varies by state, but in most cases falls to the state's health department, Stratman said, adding that lax enforcement is most likely due to limited resources.
For the study, researchers posing as teenagers called 427 tanning facilities in 42 states and the District of Columbia. The callers said they wanted to tan before a family vacation and asked about costs and whether a parent needed to be present to consent to tanning.
The researchers found that slightly more than 37 percent of the tanning facilities did not comply with their state's laws.
The most common breach was allowing tanning without parental permission, Stratman said.
Most of the tanning salons that flouted the laws were in rural areas, the South, in states with laws governing teens 15 or younger and in states with more than one tanning regulation.
In addition, independently owned salons were more likely than chain tanning facilities not to follow the laws, the researchers found.
The American Suntanning Association represents the tanning salon industry and responded to the study.
"This was a telephone survey, and not a single business contacted actually allowed a teenager to use UV tanning services without parental consent or violated any law," said Joseph Levy, director of scientific affairs for the association.
"The American Suntanning Association and its members, who operate more than 1,000 professional salons throughout the country, have supported compliance with indoor tanning standards for decades, including those related to tanning by minors," Levy said.
However, teens don't know the potential consequences of tanning, said Dr. Michele Green, a dermatologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "Indoor tanning is exposing teens to a carcinogen. Kids don't know they are doing something that can hurt them."
Green knows the dangers of tanning beds firsthand.
"I have a 25-year-old patient who tanned when he was a teen and now has a deep, incisive melanoma and has a 50 percent chance of dying," she said.
Stratman said it's his "hope that this study stimulates states to look for opportunities for better enforcement of the laws intended to improve the safety and health of minors."
The survey results were published online Oct. 25 in the journal JAMA Dermatology.
The American Cancer Society has information on melanoma.
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