Tanning beds aren’t safe, restrict teen use

When you go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web page on tanning beds the first words are, “Indoor Tanning Is Not Safe.”

In the first paragraph the CDC explains that indoor tanning can cause skin cancers, including deadly melanoma, and can also cause cataracts and eye cancers.

The CDC goes on to say that many teens use tanning beds, including 13 percent of high school students, 20 percent of high school girls and 31 percent of white high school girls.

People who first use a tanning bed before they turn 35 have a 75 percent greater risk of developing melanoma, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Given all this, it would seem simple common sense that Kentucky join the 11 states — and as many countries — that restrict indoor tanning to people age 18 and over.

Certainly that’s the thinking of Rep. David Watkins, D-Henderson, a physician, who introduced House Bill 196 to do just that. Currently a minor can use tanning beds with parental permission. The House Health and Welfare Committee agreed with Watkins, passing the bill in late January. Monday, the entire House passed the measure 55 to 37.

However, if the past is any indication, HB 196 will run into headwinds in the Senate, where it has died in committee the last couple of years. Rep. Tim Moore, R-Elizabethtown, expressed the basis for the opposition as he voted against the bill in the House committee: “We continue to erode parent responsibility.”

We don’t agree.

It is routine for governments to place age limitations on activities that present dangers to individuals and society: smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, driving automobiles. They do place some limitations on the freedoms of children and parents who would allow them to drink and drive before they are developmentally able to do so responsibly. So be it.

It is important to point out that, sadly for us all, many children don’t have parents who provide appropriate guidance. And it is also true, as Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, pointed out in the committee hearing, even when parents try to do their job they don’t always get the compliance they’d like from underage children.

That’s what happens in the real world. And in the real world, young people, particularly young women, are putting themselves at greater risk of developing skin cancers when they use tanning beds.

At 16 or 17, or younger, the risk of a future skin cancer may seem very remote compared to the allure of a winter tan, the promise of feeling better on cold, gloomy days, as tanning salons promise.

This bill does not threaten the sanctity of families or diminish the importance of parents. It provides some protection to very vulnerable young people and deserves a hearing and a vote in the Kentucky Senate.