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FDA Proposes Ban on Indoor Tanning for Anyone Under 18 to Reduce Skin Cancer Risk

Jan 11, 2016

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed a ban on the use of tanning beds by anyone under 18. Health experts call this a major step toward reducing the risk of skin cancer.

Until recently, indoor tanning was not seen as a significant factor in skin cancer rates, but mounting evidence indicates that tanning beds may play more of a role in the cancer numbers than previously thought, the New York Times reports. Research published in the last year estimates that tanning beds account for up to 400,000 cases of skin cancer annually, including 6,000 cases of melanoma, the disease's deadliest form.

The December 2015 proposal also has provisions to require tanning bed manufacturers to make warning labels more prominent and easier to read and to have an emergency shut-off switch on the tanning bed. Indoor tanning facilities would have to ensure that people using tanning beds use protective eyewear during tanning sessions to block out harmful light.

Though rates for many cancers have been on the decline, melanoma rates have continued to rise about 3 percent a year in the last twenty years, the Times reports. Health experts are concerned that tanning beds, which are especially popular among young women, are a significant contributor to this trend. The incidence rate of melanoma in women under 40 has risen by about a third since the early 1990s, according to data from the National Cancer Institute.

Some states have already banned indoor tanning for minors, but tanning beds are still widely accessible to minors in most states, the Times reports. The FDA estimates that there are 18,000 to 19,000 tanning salons nationwide, and tanning beds also available in gyms, spas, hotels, and on college campuses. A 2014 study by University of Miami researchers found that Florida has more tanning salons than McDonald's restaurants, CVS stores, or Bank of America branches.

Dr. Jeffrey E. Gershenwald, a professor of surgery and medical director of the Melanoma and Skin Center at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, hailed the proposed ban as "a tremendous advance." FDA spokesman Eric Pahon said the agency would work through state authorities to enforce the requirements. Among the enforcement measures open to the FDA are seizure of tanning beds, civil penalties and fines, or criminal prosecution. Manufacturers of tanning beds are already required to register with the FDA, but tanning salons are not, and this could complicate enforcement, the Times says.

Health experts say the FDA proposal is important because young people are at greatest risk for serious consequences from indoor tanning. According to the Times, indoor tanning increases the overall risk of melanoma by 20 percent, but the risk increases by 59 percent for anyone who uses a tanning bed at all before age 35. The FDA proposal will be open for public comment for 90 days.

About 1.6 million minors use indoor tanning facilities every year, according to a 2013 federal youth health survey. Government data also shows that those who turn to tanning beds tend to use them frequently. Data on tanning among high school students (collected only since 2009) shows that more than half of those who used tanning beds had used them 10 or more times in the past year, according to the Times.

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