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Correlation Among Teens: Indoor Tanning, Smoking & Social Media

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This article is adapted from a story that originally appeared on www.​sci­encedaily.​com, April 20, 2015.

Research from Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and Rutgers School of Public Health shows more than a third of New Jersey high school students who engage in indoor tanning do so frequently and many would find it hard to stop the practice.

The research letter, Frequent Indoor Tanning among New Jersey High School Students, which appears in the latest edition of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, also found that frequent indoor tanners were more likely to smoke and to engage in social media activities related to indoor tanning.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indoor tanning is particularly dangerous for those who begin indoor tanning in adolescence or early adulthood, as it puts them at a higher risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest of all skin cancers.

In 2013, commercial indoor tanning was banned in New Jersey for those under 17 years of age. Investigators say the results of this current study will provide a necessary basis for assessing the impact of this ban on tanning rates among New Jersey minors.

Data for the study were drawn from the 2012 New Jersey Youth Tobacco Survey, which was completed by 1,850 public school students in grades nine through 12 in New Jersey. While primarily focusing on tobacco-related issues, the survey also included several questions related to indoor tanning.

Along with providing demographic information pertaining to sex, age and race/ethnicity, survey participants reported whether they were:

  • A current smoker (smoked at least one cigarette in the past 30 days); and
  • The number of times they used an indoor tanning booth or bed with tanning lamps.

Those who indicated indoor tanning use in the past year also specified whether they had done so:

  • Prior to a special occasion;
  • Before a vacation; and/or
  • In order to improve their mood.

They also reported whether they had used social media related to indoor tanning salons (meaning that they became a fan, followed, or liked a tanning salon site on one or more social media channels). They also indicated how hard it would be for them to stop indoor tanning.

Of the 1,754 students who answered the question about indoor tanning use:

  • 8.5% reported taking part in the practice over the prior year.
  • Students who tanned indoors over the past year versus those who did not were more likely to be female (66.1% versus 48.4 percent) and current smokers (25.0% versus 7.4%).
  • Students who reported indoor tanning in the past year did not differ in age than those who did not engage in the practice.
  • Among students who reported indoor tanning in the past year, 38% were ‘frequent’ indoor tanners (having had 10 or more indoor tanning sessions during that period).
  • Frequent indoor tanning was more common among indoor tanners who were current smokers (57.6% frequent tanners), tanned in order to improve their mood (75.2% frequent tanners), had used social media related to tanning salons (54.6% frequent tanners) or who indicated it would be very hard to stop the practice (90.3% frequent indoor tanners).

Elliot J. Coups, PhD, behavioral scientist at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey and associate professor of medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, is the lead author. “Even though a commercial tanning bed ban is now in place for many high-schoolers in New Jersey, we have learned from the experiences of other states that this does not entirely eliminate indoor tanning among youth. Thus, there is still a need to develop and implement interventions for this population—and for youth across the U.S.—to reduce the likelihood that they will engage in indoor tanning,” noted Dr. Coups.

“Given more than half of frequent tanners are using social media related to indoor tanning, this might serve as a viable mechanism to deliver messaging about the risks of this activity. The higher rate of smoking among frequent tanners also suggests these users may benefit from interventions that address multiple behavioral risk factors.”

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