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Sun Protection Advocacy Group Endorses Tanning Bed Tax

SunAWARE, a not-for-profit educational advocacy group for the prevention and detection of skin cancer, has endorsed the proposed 10% federal tax on tanning beds.

"Until Congress enacts laws banning access to tanning beds for all minors, the proposed tax should act as a deterrent, especially for young people," said Mary Barrow, executive director of SunAWARE, based in Minneapolis.

On an average day in the United States, more than one million people tan, Barrow said. Of those, nearly 70% are girls and women, most between 16 and 29 years of age.

In July 2009, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a division of the World Health Organization, announced a finding that UV radiation (UVA and UVB) from tanning devices is "carcinogenic to humans." Other carcinogenic agents in the same risk group as tanning devices include cigarettes, mustard gas and plutonium, according to the IARC. The World Health Organization has recommended that individuals under eighteen years old should not use tanning beds.

During the most recent 20-year period (1984-2004) studied by the National Cancer Institute's Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, the annual incidence of invasive melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, increased by 50% among Caucasian women in the United States between the ages of 15 and 39.

"The tanning industry has attempted to portray the proposed tax as a punitive measure against small business," Barrow said. "We do not seek punishment, we seek good health safeguards for susceptible, socially driven teen girls. In the absence of federal access restrictions, we seek to create an economic reason for young women to think twice before stepping into a tanning bed."

Barrow noted that a study by IARC also demonstrated that people who use tanning beds before age 30 increase their chance of developing melanoma by 75%.

In large powerful tanning units, the UVA irradiation intensity may be 10–15 times stronger than that of the midday sun. Such powerful sources of UVA radiations do not exist in nature. The UVA doses per unit of time received by the skin during a typical sunbed session are far higher than what is experienced during daily life or during sunbathing outdoors. "There is no such thing as a safe tan," Barrow said.

The Skin Cancer Foundation is spearheading a Congressional letter writing campaign urging Congress to pass the tanning tax. "We believe this is an important effort and deserving of public support," Barrow said.

Mary Barrow is the executive director of SunAWARE, a not-for-profit educational advocacy group. She is the creator of the SunAWARE acronym outlining simple steps to prevent and detect skin cancer and is the author of several books including Sun Protection for Life: Your Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy and Beautiful Skin (New Harbinger Press).