The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed a ban on anyone under age 18 using tanning beds, which experts say is a major step toward reducing the risk of skin cancer.
Evidence has been mounting that tanning beds may play more of a role in the nation’s skin cancer numbers than previously thought, the New York Times reports. Scientific research published in the last year estimates that tanning beds account for as many as 400,000 cases of skin cancer annually, including 6,000 cases of melanoma, the deadliest form of the disease.
The FDA proposal would also require tanning bed manufacturers to make warning labels more prominent and easier to read, to have an emergency shut-off switch on the tanning bed. Tanning facilities would have to ensure that protective eyewear is worn during tanning sessions to block out harmful light.
Melanoma rates—unlike the declining rates for most other cancers—have continued to rise about 3 percent a year in the last twenty years, according to the Times. Health experts are concerned that tanning beds—popular among young women in particular — are a significant contributor to this trend.
Some states have already banned indoor tanning for minors, but tanning beds are still widely accessible to minors in most states. The FDA estimates that there are 18,000 to 19,000 tanning salons nationwide, and tanning beds are available in gyms, spas, hotels, and on college campuses, the Times reports. In a 2014 study, University of Miami researchers found that there are more tanning salons in Florida 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 FDA move as “a tremendous advance.” FDA spokesman Eric Pahon said the agency would work through state authorities to enforce the requirements, if they become final. Manufacturers of tanning beds already have to register with the FDA, but tanning salons do not, and this could complicate enforcement, according to the Times. Enforcement measures could include seizing tanning beds, levying civil penalties, or even criminal prosecution.
Health experts say the proposal is important, because young people are at greatest risk for adverse health consequences from indoor tanning. Melanoma risk increases by 59 percent in people who use tanning beds at all before age 35. Indoor tanning increases the overall risk of melanoma by 20 percent, according to the Times. The FDA proposal will be open for public comment for 90 days.
Doctors are concerned because the incidence rate of melanoma in women under 40 has risen by a third since the early 1990s, according to data from the National Cancer Institute. The number of young people using tanning beds has begun to decline but is still high: about 1.6 million minors use indoor tanning facilities every year, according to a 2013 federal youth health survey. And government data shows that those who turn to tanning beds tend to use them frequently. Government 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 times or more in the past year, according to the Times.