Research: Law to Prevent Kids from Tanning Ineffective

By Briana Vannozzi

In Jersey, many prefer the bronze over gold. After indoor tanning use and correlated skin cancers started soaring, legislators cracked down. But new research shows the 2013 law put in place to prevent children younger than 17 years old from hopping in a tanning bed hasn’t worked.

“In 2012, 6.7 percent of high school students under the age of 17 reported indoor tanning in the past 12 months one or more times. In 2014, 6.9 percent of high school students under the age of 17 reported indoor tanning in the past year, so really the rate didn’t change,” said Elliot Coups, associate professor at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey.

The rate was relatively untouched — in fact, slightly higher. The ban allows 17-year-olds to use a tanning salon if a parent or guardian signs off at their first visit. Researchers at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey surveyed roughly 6,000 high school students just before and after the law took effect.

“It does surprise me. Because I don’t see how it could not be changed,” said Summer Illusions Tanning Salon owner Ashley Palko.

Palko bought the Summer Illusions Tanning Salon in Hamilton two years ago, right after a new tax and the new law were enacted.

“I think the biggest thing and challenge has been for parents to understand and accept they can’t make the choice for themselves,” she said. “So was there a loss of business? I would say yes there was.”

“It also shows it’s important to keep monitoring the rates of indoor tanning. Even though the law is in place, it doesn’t meant that people won’t try and indoor tan,” Coups said.

Researchers are focusing on this area due to increasing rates of melanoma among youth as other types of cancer decrease.

“I truly don’t know if there’s an easier way. I mean how else can you prove it besides, I don’t want to insult the adult that’s here that is saying that they’re the mother of the girl that’s there or the boy that’s there. But that, I believe, is very, very few and far between,” Palko said.

“If you look at young white women in this country, about one in three every year will report using a tanning salon. About one in five of those young white women are going 10 or more times in the past year, which is a rate that really seems to increase exponentially the risk of melanoma,” said Jared Stapleton, assistant professor at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey.

Another surprising piece to the study? Indoor tanning use among teen boys increased from 5.8 percent in 2012 to 8.6 percent in 2014.

“I believe that if we were to educate people more on the use of indoor tanning beds, as well as outdoor tanning, I believe our skin is something a lot of us need to learn a lot more about. And I believe the government deciding to parent parents is not the way to go,” Palko said.

The FDA recently proposed banning the use of indoor tanning beds for everyone under the age of 18. But armed with this recent data, researchers wonder just how effective the government would be in enforcing that law.