The scientific evidence is clear: Ultraviolet radiation — the kind emitted by the sun, and by tanning lamps — can cause skin cancer. The anecdotal evidence is clear, too: Indoor tanning is popular among teen-aged girls, which helps explain why melanoma is the leading cause of death among 25- to 29-year-old American women. Put the two together and it’s all the reason anyone needs to support a proposal currently before the New York Legislature to ban the use of tanning beds by anyone under 18.
The state has had a ban applying to those under 14 for several years, and anyone between the ages of 14 and 18 is required to get parental consent before patronizing a tanning salon. But the law is hard to enforce or ineffective for a number of reasons, including: 1) tanning salons don’t want to turn away business; 2) some parents don’t like saying no to their children and, not realizing how dangerous tanning can be, won’t; 3) teens may forge their parents’ signatures; and 4) few agents of the government are willing to enforce the law.
But if tanning is as dangerous to humans as smoking cigarettes or drinking — and the mortality rate from melanoma among women in their mid-20s suggests that it is — why would the state allow it among minors of any age?
It’s one thing to let adults engage in destructive behavior, but kids — who can’t be expected to know any better — are different. This is the rationale for controlling minors’ access to alcohol and tobacco, and it should apply to tanning booths as well.
Tanning advocates insist that ultraviolet radiation, taken in moderation, isn’t dangerous. That may be true, but some people have greater tolerance than others, just as some people have more self-control. The latter is certainly not a hallmark of teenagers, and people are naive if they think tanning salon operators are going to recommend that their customers err on the side of caution.