Kansas considers banning minors' use of tanning beds

For Kansans younger than 18, the trip to the tanning bed to get that desired golden glow may become a thing of the past.

State House members are set to vote, perhaps next week, on a bill that would ban minors from tanning beds and fine salons $250 for breaking the law.

At issue is the risk of life-threatening melanoma, a dangerous form of skin cancer associated with exposure to sunshine or tanning beds. Evidence is mounting that those exposed to ultraviolet radiation from indoor tanning have a much higher risk of developing melanoma, said Lawrence dermatologist Lee Bittenbender.

The House Health and Human Services Committee passed HB 2435 last week, sending it to the full House for a vote. Committee members approved an amendment that would allow physicians to prescribe tanning for minors with health concerns such as psoriasis.

“We’re not stepping into unknown territory,” said committee Vice Chairwoman Susan Concannon, R-Beloit. “This is a trending issue.”

Illinois, Nevada, Texas, California and Vermont currently ban minor tanning bed use. American Cancer Society representative testified during last week's hearing that tanning bed use is as carcinogenic as smoking, Concannon said.

“Because of that, the rationale in society is to treat it the same as tobacco,” Concannon said.

Kristi Lawrence, owner of Mango Tan, 4000 W. 6th St. in Lawrence, said her shop screens all clients’ skin before deciding if and how long they should be under the bulbs. One percent of her clients would be affected by this bill.

All teenagers under 18 already need a parent's permission at Mango Tan, Lawrence said, and no one under 15 is allowed to tan.

As a mom of three girls, Lawrence’s biggest objection to the bill is that the government is interfering with her parenting decisions. She understands the delicacy of teenagers’ skin.

“It’s not just about indoors,” she says. “We need to worry about them outdoors, too. But does the government need to control how much time they spend at the pool outdoors? Where do you draw the line?”

Micaela Riley, 15, said you take your own risk when you decide to tan.

“Take precautions if you think you burn easily, and if you have melanoma in your family then obviously you shouldn’t tan, but I don’t think it should be a law,” Riley said.

Bittenbender, of the Dermatology Center of Lawrence, said about 70 percent of people who go to tanning salons are caucasian girls and women from 16 to 29 years old. Melanoma shows up years later, he said. “If you went and got tanned, and within a week, month or even a year got cancer, that would get people’s attention a lot more.”

Depending on how new the bulbs are and how long one stays under them, the ultraviolet irradiation is more detrimental than the sun, he said.

Rep. Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, offered an amendment requiring parental authorization for minors, which failed because the majority of committee members said they didn’t think businesses would properly verify consent.

Four of 11 committee members were in complete opposition to more regulation for an already well-regulated industry, Hawkins said.

“I believe what will happen is people that want to allow their children to tan are going to allow them to go to somebody’s home to tan, and then you aren’t going to have a professional looking over that situation,” Hawkins said. “We’re as a government saying, we know what’s best for people. And it’s time we stop doing that.”

During the testimony, Hawkins said, one representative said she received several calls from mothers who were glad tanning would be banned because it eliminates a difficult conversation with their children. Those are just parents who don’t want to parent, Hawkins said.


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