Now that the tanning industry has had its nosed bloodied by the Federal Trade Commission, maybe it’s time for the Food and Drug Administration to step up to the plate.
That’s the question that is looming large for many interested in the issue of tanning bed risk, and the upcoming FDA meeting on March 25 where further restrictions on tanning beds are going to be considered.
From my point of view, and based on my personal/family experience, action can't come soon enough.
This is clearly not a new topic.
Several years ago, the World Health Organization published a detailed, comprehensive report on the risks of tanning beds. They concluded they were bad for your health, and recommended that youth under the age of 18 should be banned from using them.
Fast forward to this past July, and you have the International Agency for Research in Cancer—better known as IARC—issuing a statement that tanning beds are in fact a Class I carcinogen, on the same page and same line as tobacco.
In other words, just like tobacco, here is a product that when used as intended has a considerable chance of causing you harm. And, at the same time, it is unclear except in the most limited of circumstances how tanning beds can possibly offer any benefit that can’t be achieved using approaches that are much less risky at substantially less cost.
In very condensed terms, what happened this past Tuesday was that the FTC charged the Indoor Tanning Association (ITA)—a trade industry that is supported by the tanning industry—of “making false health and safety claims about indoor tanning.” According to the FTC press release, the association simultaneously “agreed to a settlement that bars it from any further deception.”
So what did they “decept” you might ask?
In a March 2008 advertising campaign—one that raised great concern among those aware of the risks of indoor tanning—the Association claimed:
· Indoor tanning is approved by the government
· Indoor tanning is safer than tanning outdoors because the amount of ultraviolet light received when tanning indoors is monitored and controlled
· Research shows that vitamin D supplements may harm the body’s ability to fight disease, and
· A national Academy of Sciences study determined that “the risks of not getting enough ultraviolet light far outweigh the hypothetical risk of skin cancer.”
As part of the settlement, the industry has to let people know that they don’t have to become tan to get vitamin D and that doing so “may increase the likelihood of developing skin cancer and can cause serious eye injury.”
When you look at a more detailed report of the FTC investigation, you find that the industry actually claimed—according to the FTC—that indoor tanning does not increase the risk of skin cancer. The FTC countered that “tanning, including indoor tanning, increases the risk of skin cancer, including squamous cell and melanoma skin cancers.”
I distinctly remember the advertisements in question.
Some of us were so concerned that—through the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention—we actually wrote a letter to the ombudsman of a major national newspaper that ran the ads, taking them to task for running an advertisement that was clearly full of dangerous misinformation. To the best of my knowledge, we never received a response.
And then there was the article that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine that provided an excellent review of vitamin D but also included tanning beds as a means of supplementing vitamin D. We complained about that as well, but the editor declined to run our letter.
Shortly thereafter, there were published reports and an article on this blog discussing the fact that the researcher who wrote the article indicated that his research was supported by the Ultraviolet Foundation, which is a “foundation” wholly supported by the ITA.
So the battle goes on an on.
This past November, I had the privilege of testifying on behalf of the American Cancer Society at a hearing in Howard County MD that resulted in a county-wide ban on the use of tanning beds by minors under the age of 18. This was an outright ban, not one of those “if your parents give you permission it’s OK” types of restrictions.
The room was filled with people in favor and opposed to the ban, and to be certain there were a number of tanning salon owners there who said they don’t want to harm children, and feel that tanning is safe (there were also a number of people there who had a strange looking tan, but that’s not a topic for this blog. They just looked really out of place.)
There were also experts there who testified on behalf of the tanning salon owners. One of those was a recently retired FDA official who just happened to be intimately involved with tanning bed regulation at the FDA prior to his retirement.
We are going to have a replay of that hearing on March 25th at an FDA advisory committee meeting just outside of Washington DC, when the FDA is going to consider whether they should reclassify tanning lamps from their “essentially safe” list to one that has a bit more teeth.
That, at least, would reflect current thinking on the question that these lamps are not safe when used as intended, and in fact can cause serious harm.
Like many things in life, this all comes down to one’s personal experiences. And my family has had one of those experiences.
When my daughter was in high school, she succumbed to the lure of the tanning industry and wanted to get tan for her prom.
As you might imagine, she never told me or consulted with me about this. After all, dear old Dad may have some knowledge about these things, but what does he really know?
Well, Dad may not know anything but my daughter soon discovered the problem with tanning beds.
You see, she has what is called “type I” skin. That means she is very fair, and can’t tan. She burns.
And that’s how I found out that my daughter was going to the “tanning” salon. She returned home one Saturday, red as a lobster from head to toe, burned by one of those salons that allegedly always follows the rules. And now she is at a lifetime increased risk of skin cancer and melanoma as a direct result of her sessions under the “safe” UV light in a local tanning salon.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
Researchers have documented the dangers of tanning devices. They have also documented the lack of controls on the tanning industry.
So I ask you, why? Why continue this charade? Why let this go on?
Tanning isn’t something we need. It’s something we want—for all the wrong reasons. It can even be addicting like cigarettes. And, like cigarettes, when used as intended it does bad things—even causing cancer that can result in death—and doesn’t do anything good that can’t be done otherwise more safely, more effectively and less expensively.
I say it’s time for the FDA to follow the lead of the FTC and get on with the job that has to be done.
And, as reflected in a number of bills and proposed regulations currently pending in state and local legislative and regulatory bodies around the country, it’s time to ban the tan—especially for those under the age of 18.