Tanning Booths – A Public Health Threat

Post by Dr. Yale Podnos, a Surgical Oncologist at Rex Surgical Specialists. Dr. Podnos specializes in surgical oncology focused on liver, colon and solid organ tumors. He is also the director of Surgical Oncology at Rex Cancer Center.

Our society has an inconsistent history of establishing priorities that protect us. We outlaw dangerous drugs such as marijuana and cocaine, but only limit other dangerous substances such as alcohol and cigarettes. Our health system, working hard to treat things we can’t help, is straining under the weight of things we can; diabetes, obesity, sedentary lifestyles, and tanning booths.

Tanning booths?

Yes, tanning booths.

Perhaps it seems silly at first glance. Tanning booths provide that lovely copper hue by bombarding the recipient with profound amounts of ultraviolet (UV) rays. UV rays are the part of the electromagnetic spectrum associated with cancers of the skin, most notably melanoma. And melanoma, a potentially lethal form of skin cancer, is becoming more common. Over 3.5 million people will be diagnosed with melanoma this year alone and mortality has risen nearly 700% in the past 3 decades.

This important topic was discussed recently at the annual meeting of the Society of Surgical Oncology. As Surgical Oncologists, we see the impact that cancers, such as melanomas, have on patients and families. We decided to take action.

A special session was held with the intent of developing a position paper on this important topic. Our intent was to alert the public about the dangers of tanning booths and formalize and publicize our concern. Recent studies have found that the use of tanning beds during adolescence increases the risk of subsequent melanomas almost 200%.

With this known risk, other governments have begun to ban the use of tanning beds. Brazil and, as of 2014, New South Wales, Australia, have recognized the risk tanning beds pose and have outlawed them. In the US over 30 million people use tanning beds. Most are teenage girls, who, on average, use tanning beds over 20 times a year.

Is this really a public health problem? I think so. I appreciate the ability of consenting adults to engage in behaviors that are risky. But children? Do teenagers have the legal ability and responsibility to judge the risk of tanning?

I know what some of you will say. Should our exposure to the sun be regulated as well? That would be like trying to outlaw carbon monoxide. But carbon monoxide, a significant by-product of cigarette smoke, is regulated by the federal government. Cigarettes, like alcohol, are regulated because of the well-established threat to our health from smoking. In my opinion, tanning beds fall into the same category.

In these troubled economic times, we should support small business. The tanning industry, mostly owned by small business owners, is a $2.6 billion dollar a year industry. But what cost, especially over the long term, does this have on health care expenditures as a nation? Probably more than $2.6 billion a year in costs, loss of productivity, and quality of life.

I don’t know the answers, but I really want to know what people think. Should the use of tanning beds be regulated? Should it be restricted to people over 18? 21? Not at all?

I appreciate the ability to talk to people in this digital form. Please let me know what you think.

  • I have an addiction to tanning. I was wondering if there’s an anonymous group I could go to where I could find sponsors to help me through this problem.