Debra’s Story: Why tanning is not worth it
South Carolina teens wanting to work on their tans may have to stick with the sun.
Children under the age of 18 would be banned from using tanning beds in South Carolina under a measure approved Thursday by the S.C. House of Representatives. The bill now heads to the S.C. Senate.
The bill, which passed on a 72-39 vote, bars minors from using tanning beds in an effort to prevent teen skin cancer. Tanning facilities would be required to post permanent signs informing customers of the age requirement. Businesses that violate the law would be subject to a $500 fine.
The bill is being pushed by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, which notes indoor-tanning devices are listed as cancer causing by the World Health Organization.
“We are doing it with cigarettes. We are doing it with vaping products. We should also be doing it with tanning beds,” state Rep. Beth Bernstein, D-Richland, told The State, referring to the proposed ban.
Bernstein, a sponsor of the bill, also introduced legislation that would ban minors from entering tobacco stores and vape shops without an adult in an effort to curb teen nicotine addiction. That measure, which passed the House, was amended by the Senate and sent back to the House to approve.
State regulations now require anyone under 18 to have written permission from a parent or legal guardian before they can use tanning services. Parents must accompany their children on their first visit to tanning facilities and sign the permission statement in the presence of a tanning salon operator.
The Cancer Action Network, however, argues parental-consent laws, including South Carolina’s, have not helped curb the flow of teens to tanning beds. The advocacy group says a ban would help protect youth from the harmful effects of artificial UV radiation given off by tanning lamps. Light from those lamps is more concentrated and damaging than sunlight, according to dermatologists.
Studies show that an indoor tanning device used before age 35 increases the risk of melanoma by almost 60 percent, and increases the risk of other forms of cancer by a range of 30 percent to almost 70 percent, depending on the type of cancer.
Nationwide, skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer, and rates have been rising for the past 30 years, according to the Cancer Society.
Opponents of the bill argue the key to protecting teens from skin cancer lies in informed parental consent and that existing law is adequate for protecting teens from harmful rays.
Seeking a compromise, state Rep. Russell Fry, R-Horry, tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to allow children to tan only if a parent comes to the salon with them.
Fry said the bill to ban teens from tanning salons had an “admirable goal to prevent and limit skin cancer in South Carolina.” His proposal would have “(made) the parent the gatekeeper ... as opposed to a state telling a business, ‘You must be the gatekeeper.’ “
The ban would apply to 2,644 tanning beds and booths in 393 tanning facilities across the state, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control. Lexington County has the highest number of tanning facilities, with 34, according to the agency, which regulates indoor tanning. Richland County has 24 registered tanning facilities, behind Spartanburg, Greenville and Horry counties.
State Reps. Garry Smith, R-Greenville, and Johnathan Hill, R-Anderson, argue the bill seeks to end cancer by regulation by improperly taking options away from people, some of whom rely on tanning to treat certain skin conditions.
“If we’re going to send Big Brother out there after us ... then why don’t we go out there and say, ‘Sorry, kids. If you’re under 18, you can only spend, what, 15 minutes outside?’ ” Rep. Garry Smith, R-Greenville, said on the House floor during debate Wednesday.
“We can’t write enough bills to keep people from doing stupid things — from people staying out there in the sun too long or people staying in the tanning bed for too long — but we try anyway. At some point we must say, ‘Enough is enough.’”
Rep. Kirkman Finlay, R-Richland, whose father died of skin cancer, called his fellow Republicans’ arguments a farce.
“It’s an agonizing death,” Finlay said. “What you lose when it happens to you is beyond anything you can imagine or ever want to see. ... Tanning is a known carcinogen on par with tobacco and asbestos. ... We do not let (minors) smoke cigarettes legally. Why should we let them tan?”