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Ohio may ban indoor tanning for kids under 18

Ohio would become the third state to prohibit minors younger than 18 from using indoor tanning salons, if one of two bipartisan bills being considered by state lawmakers passes.

Attempts at smiliar legislation failed several times in the past, but state lawmakers feel they have enough support to pass it this time.

Past efforts failed in part because of concerns that a ban would hurt tanning businesses. Bill sponsor Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, said that’s not the case as spray tanning becomes more popular than ultraviolet bed tanning.

“It really is a question of life and death for a lot of young people,” Lehner said.

Lehner said she’s received a couple hundred letters from dermatologists who have seen many cases of skin cancer in patients who used tanning beds. The federal Food and Drug Administration proposed new rules this week that would require sun beds to meet certain specifications and carry warning labels. The FDA also recommended youth younger than 18 not use tanning beds.

The ban would replace parental permission currently required for teen tanners in Ohio, and would not impact spray tanning. The bills have the backing of the Ohio State Medical Association, Ohio Dermatological Association, American Cancer Society and other medical group.

But some lawmakers say parents should decide what’s best for their teens, not lawmakers.

During the first hearing, Rep. Ron Maag, R-Lebanon, questioned whether the state should get in the way of parental consent and said it could be a slippery slope into more government regulation.

Lawmakers in 18 other states have introduced similar legislation this year, including neighboring states Michigan, Indiana and Pennsylvania, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. California and Vermont have banned tanning for minors under 18, while Wisconsin banned it for youth younger than 16.

Several studies in recent years link tanning beds to melanoma, the leading cause of death among skin cancers. One of 50 Americans will develop melanoma over the course of his or her lifetime, according to the National Cancer Institute. One study by the World Health Organization concluded tanning bed use increases risk of melanoma 75 percent.

But Joe Levy of the American Suntanning Association said most cases in that study were from people who tanned in doctors’ offices and no study has shown, biologically, that exposure to UV rays in tanning beds causes skin cancer. Levy said his organization pushes for strict rules around parental permission and more education about tanning and excess sun exposure.

“We live a very unnatural lifestyle, working in cubicles indoors,” Levy said. “Salons simply provide a surrogate for what nature intended for so many people.”

Levy said keeping teens out of tanning salons would create a “garage tanning industry.” In a survey, he said, two-thirds of teenagers said they would continue to tan by spending more time outside or purchasing used beds online if they couldn’t go to a salon.

Dr. Tom Olsen, a dermatologist and professor at Wright State University, said kids try to get around all kinds of laws, but having a law in place at least gets them to stop and think about the consequences.

“I don’t think the parent should be in that middle position if the facts are there,” said Olsen, an Ohio State Medical Association member. “We have a problem. They in their right mind would not want their kids exposed. To put parents in the middle, it dilutes the effect and still doesn’t get it to where it should be.”

Olsen said sunlight does help the body generate Vitamin D but there are other, less harmful ways to get that benefit such as taking supplements. Olsen said any artificial sun exposure increases risk of skin cancer, but sun beds can be helpful for people with certain skin disorders, provided they are under a doctor’s supervision.

Former Republican state Rep. Courtney Combs unsuccessfully pitched the idea in 2007, 2009 and 2011. Two of those bills were referred to committees focused on business, not health.

This time, one bill landed in a business committee. The other is scheduled for a second hearing this week in the House Health and Aging Committee.

The next hearing on the legislation is set for Wednesday.

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