Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Get the Facts Ma'am...

I know I haven’t written here in a while, but I HAVE been writing.  Most recently, I’ve been writing emails. 

This past weekend, I wrote to our local high school’s newspaper faculty advisor and encouraged one of her students to do a piece on tanning…hopefully the dangers of tanning.  I pointed out that it is prime tanning salon season with proms and spring break approaching, and that it would be timely to write such an article.  I also mentioned that the North Carolina General Assembly was currently considering legislation to ban indoor UV tanning for minors.  She responded that she would discuss the idea with her students, so I’m hopeful to see something soon.  Or maybe not.  But at least I brought it up.  I'll keep you posted.

Speaking of the General Assembly, I wrote them as well.  The Youth Skin Care Prevention Act, or HB18 was the topic of discussion this past Tuesday before the House Committee on Health and Human Services.  I wrote to every member (all 25) this past weekend, hoping to sway their vote and common sense towards a ban to indoor UV tanning for minors.  My friend Anne Bowman was present at the meeting to share her story, as were leaders from Duke University and North Carolina University…two leading cancer research institutions.  I spent much of my work day on Tuesday checking Twitter, Facebook, and local news websites to see how the meeting went.  Apparently it was going well until Joseph Levy of the Smart Tan Network, Inc. (really….) made an eleventh hour presentation to try to dispel the facts presented by pretty much every medical society in North Carolina. 
Mr. Sunshine
His talk apparently moved Representative Marilyn Avila enough to postpone the committee’s vote on the issue until next week.  I understand that many of the committee members that supported (and sponsored) the bill were pretty ticked.  Still…the vote has been postponed.

So now I write again.  This time, my letter won’t be a shotgun approach loaded with tanning and melanoma specifics, but aimed at specific “concerns” that Representative Avila had.

Rep. Avila claims that the medical groups that support the ban are not misguided, but are emotional and “see things their way.” She advises the groups to “stand back objectively and say, ‘Yes there is a problem but is it this big a problem?’”

First of all, general scientists (such a Ms. Avila…she’s a retired chemist) are very calculating and non-biased in many decisions.  They study the facts and base their results solely on such findings.  However, medical scientists such as doctors and researchers are driven by emotion.  Their goal is to better humanity’s quality of life…to find ways to eliminate disease and suffering.  There will always be emotion in medical science.  At the same time, these scientists are driven to find a correct answer, not just any answer.  They don’t make quick and unfounded decisions because a wrong prognosis can have devastating results.  I content that medical science HAS stood back objectively and said, “Yes, there is indeed a problem and a very big problem!”

Rep. Avila states there s a study “out there” that states tanning beds only increase the risk of melanoma by 1/10 percent.  Even Joseph Levy apparently stated that tanning beds cause an increase to skin cancer by “only” 2 or 3 percent.  Dr. Nelson of Duke University cited a 75 percent increase for early-age users.  In all honesty, every person can cite a study that supports their side of any argument.  The same is true regarding UV tanning.  My opinion is that the true risk increase is somewhere in the middle of 3 percent and 75 percent.  Either way, it’s an increase.

Both Ms. Avila and Mr. Levy mention that banning tanning salons will drive teenagers to unmonitored tanning alternatives such as home tanning units and laying out in the sun.  Well, I have news for them…such tan-craving teens ALREADY LAY OUT IN THE SUN!  Sure, many seek a little “healthy glow” before prom, but as soon as the weather gets warm, they’ll be exposing themselves in the sun no matter what.  So driving kids into the cruel sunlight is a bogus argument.  As for home tanning units, yes this is a distinct possibility.  At the same time, these beds cost a lot.  If a parent is willing to shell out several hundred or thousand dollars to purchase a tanning bed that’ll have to probably be placed in the garage or basement, chances are their child is already spoiled beyond any hope.  Perhaps the parent needs to hold back that money and promise it towards a new car for the teen…I’m sure that would slow down the home tanning fad.

Finally, Rep. Avila states that exposure is not the issue, but burning is the issue.  This statement alone shows that she has not done her homework at all.  I would hazard to guess that she’s read websites slanted more towards the pro-tanning argument (maybe Mr. Levy contacted her more directly earlier in the week?)  I suggest she read facts from other sites such as the Skin Cancer Foundation.  Of course, she may claim the information to be too “emotional”.  Well then, might I suggest that she read an article on tanning from Popular Mechanics!  Who could claim that this publication would benefit one way or the other from the tanning discussion?  The article explains the real mechanics of sun burning and sun tanning…and not the rather abstract definition presented in the video interview.  In short, EXPOSURE leads to the damage..which includes both burns and DNA damage.

At one point in the interview, Ms. Avila stated that she was interested in what Mr. Levy said because “it’s not in his best interest to support something that is detrimental to one’s health.”  I have two words to address this statement….Tobacco Industry.  Tanning is the cigarette of the 21st Century and the same lies are being repeated as they were 40 years ago. 

One final thought.  Rep. Avila was asked if she gave as much weight to a lobbyist for the tanning industry as she would the medical community.  She stated that it depended where the facts originated.  I would like to propose the same question to her as I did on Facebook recently…if you had to make a decision regarding your children and tanning beds, would you trust the advice of the NC Pediatric Society, or a guy who profits from the success of the tanning industry?

So that’s my goal within these next couple of days…to place the thoughts I express above in a coherent and professional letter to Representative Avila in such a way that she might at least consider HB18 in the spirit and intention it was written…as a well thought out proposal to address a public health concern.

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