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Next Frontier in the Move to Ban Tanning Beds


Australia cracks down on indoor tanning amid global push to cut skin-cancer rates

SYDNEY – While public-health officials in the U.S. consider placing warnings about cancer risk on tanning beds, authorities in Australia are going much further to discourage their use: They are banning the devices altogether.

Australian officials say the crackdown is a response to the country having some of the highest skin-cancer rates in the world. Skin cancer accounts for over 80% of all new cases of cancer diagnosed in the country each year, according to Australia’s Cancer Council, and caused more than 2,000 deaths in 2011, the latest available data.

The move places Australia among the leaders in a global push to tighten regulation of indoor-tanning devices that world health authorities place in the same cancer-risk category as exposure to asbestos or tobacco smoking. Many governments, including some U.S. states like California and Vermont, have restricted use of tanning beds by minors. And Brazil has outlawed tanning beds altogether.

In the U.S., federal health regulators in May moved to tighten oversight of tanning beds and said people younger than age 18 shouldn’t use the beds at all.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s proposed order would require manufacturers to place warnings on tanning beds and promotional material. Skin cancer accounts for nearly half of all cancers in the U.S., according to federal data analyzed for a 2010 study in the journal JAMA Dermatology. The incidence of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, has been rapidly increasing, especially in people younger than 30.

In the latest move to restrict use of tanning beds, lawmakers in Australia’s Victoria state this month approved a ban on the devices in salons that will be enforced from the end of next year.

“The clear weight of medical evidence supports a ban,” said David Davis, Victoria’s health minister. A recent study cited by the Victoria government estimated 1 in 6 melanomas in Australians between 18 and 29 years old would be prevented if all tanning salons were closed down. Neighboring state New South Wales, whose capital is Sydney, outlawed the devices last year, effective at the end of 2014. In total, five of Australia’s eight states and territories, say they plan to ban tanning beds altogether by 2015.

Indoor tanning in Australia soared in popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s, especially among people under 30 years of age, despite the country being one of the world’s sunniest countries with famous beaches like Sydney’s Bondi. Salon numbers have fallen more recently after several medical studies drew a link between use of tanning devices and skin cancer, along with other health issues like premature aging and eye damage.

In Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city and Victoria’s capital, the number of salons increased by 600% in the decade through 2006. Since 2008, though, when the government prohibited people younger than age 18 from using tanning beds, the number of salons has fallen by 67%.

The World Health Organization rates ultraviolet radiation from tanning beds as a Class 1 carcinogen, putting the devices on a par with cigarettes and exposure to harmful chemicals or X-ray radiation. Brazil became the first country to ban the devices in 2009, soon after the WHO published its report.

Victoria’s move has sparked a backlash from tanning business owners.

“It’s a lot safer than going out in the sun. In a solarium, people aren’t getting sunburned, they’re in a controlled environment where they can control how much UV they get,” said Paul Cannon, who owns a tanning business, Body Bronze, in the suburb of Port Melbourne.

Some Australian lawmakers who support the ban foresee problems. Colleen Hartland, a member of Victoria’s parliament for the Greens party, feared salons in Victoria would react by rushing to sell the beds to the public. In New South Wales, the devices were offered at deeply discounted prices on online auction sites after that state outlawed the devices.

“This creates the dangerous situation where any person can buy a powerful tanning bed and operate it at home with no supervision or know how,” Ms. Hartland said.

Mr. Davis, the health minister, said discussions were under way with salons on the safe disposal of the beds. There are currently more than 100 firms licensed to operate nearly 400 tanning beds throughout Victoria, according to the state government.

Tanning Taboos

Brazil and some Australian states have banned indoor tanning beds. Some places restrict their use by minors, including:

  • United Kingdom
  • Germany
  • France
  • Some Canadian provinces
  • Some U.S. states, including California and Vermont

See the original article at wsj.com.