Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Write to Your Local High Schools!

A little over two years ago (February 15, 2013 to be exact), I wrote a letter to the local high school newspaper’s faculty adviser and asked if one of their students might want to write about indoor tanning. There was pending state legislation against tanning at the time and I was interested in a teenager’s perspective.   While I identified myself as an advocate for tanning legislation, I provided websites and information for both sides of the argument.  Yes, my message was slightly biased towards the safer choice, but I wanted the newspaper to do their homework and give their honest opinion.  The adviser responded and stated that she’d forward the idea to the student staff and let them decide.  After a few weeks, I hadn’t heard from the advisor and life caught up with me to the point that I never followed up.

Fast forward to about a week ago when I noticed my “Sent” folder in my email account had not been emptied in a long while.  The aforementioned message was still there.  My curiosity got the best of me, so I looked up the high school newspaper’s website and checked older articles.  Sure enough I found this, dated February 26, 2013:
North Carolina considers teenage tanning ban 
News Editor

Every year in the United States, nearly 28 million people tan in indoor tanning salons annually. Out of that 28 million, 2.3 million of these patrons are teenagers. Seventy percent of people using indoor tanning salons are Caucasian women ages 16 to 29 years.

The indoor tanning days of North Carolina teens could soon be over. Legislators are considering a bill that will ban anyone under 18 from using a tanning bed. In comparison, the current North Carolina law is less restrictive. Children under 13 are prohibited from using a tanning bed without a doctor’s permission, and teens ages 14 to 17 simply need a parent’s permission.
The facts paint an unfavorable picture for the indoor tanning industry. There is a 75% increased risk of melanoma for those who have been exposed to UV radiation from tanning beds, and that risk increases with each use. Studies show that there is an 87% increased risk of melanoma for those who start using tanning beds before the age of 35.

But for some these facts are not enough. Rep. Marilyn Avila, R-Wake, argued that the tanning industry should be given equal time to present its facts before lawmakers vote.

The bill will be debated and is expected to get a vote in the House Health Committee on Tuesday, February 26.

Again on March 8, 2013, another article was written, complete with a poll of students as to whether or not teenagers should be allowed to indoor tan.  Here’s that article and the poll results:
New tanning law could protect teens 

North Carolina’s legislature is currently proposing the “Youth Skin Cancer Prevention Act,” a bill which would increase the state’s minimum indoor tanning age from 13 to 18, with the exception of a doctor’s note.

According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 76,690 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma while 9,480 will likely die in 2013 alone, citing UV rays, used in tanning beds, as a contributing factor. Also, the Skin Cancer Foundation reports that those who use beds before age thirty five increase their risk for melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, by an alarming 75 percent.

Many young people, specifically teenage girls, don’t necessarily realize the long-term damage a day at the tanning salon can cause. According to skincancer.org, since teens’ skin cells are still rapidly developing, they are more vulnerable to cancer than adults.

Is it worth having a temporary tan if you could develop a dangerous, potentially life-threatening disease? This bill attempts to curb these alarming cancer statistics among young people who may make a decision they regret afterwards.

Opponents claim that if teens desire darker skin, they will simply sunbathe outside and still be at risk. Does that mean N.C.’s legislature should do nothing? Passing this bill could potentially save countless lives. Shouldn’t our lawmakers do everything within their power to ensure teens remain safe and healthy?

Below is a poll of Apex High School's opinion on tanning among children:

Note the results of the poll.  78.4% of the students believed that minors should NOT be allowed to use tanning beds!  That is FANTASTIC!

This goes to show you that it pays to take some simple actions.  Donna Regen of “Pull the Plug on Tanning Beds” is currently asking folks to write to colleges to ask that tanning beds be eliminated from university-promoted housing.  With prom season fast approaching, I strongly encourage you to write your local high school as I did and ask that their newspaper take a hard look at the tanning debate.  Offer up facts from the Skin Cancer Foundation and MRF websites.  Encourage sun safety.  It's quite simple!  

Teenagers are smart…more intelligent than we give them credit for.  Let’s encourage them to get loud and spread the word on smart tanning choices.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Aggressive Melanoma Advocacy - It's Getting Attention!

Advocacy is defined as a process by an individual or group which aims to influence decisions within political, economic and social systems or institutions.  In the skin cancer and melanoma awareness world, advocacy occurs through various means.  Groups and individuals lobby for tanning legislation. Those who have been touched by melanoma share their stories in social media.  Other organizations organize fund-raisers and educational forums.  Public Service Announcements from the Melanoma Research Alliance appear on TV or on YouTube.  “Dear 16 Year Old Me” from the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund continues to be the benchmark for all PSAs.  This is advocacy in its purest form. 

And then there is advocacy with a kick.

While general advocacy oozes into the public consciousness, more aggressive advocacy gets right in your face.  Sometimes the ads don’t necessarily scream at you, but they give you a cerebral slap and make you think about the issue just a bit more.  A few months ago, there was presentation on YouTube called “How the Sun Sees You.”

This video showed people to looking at themselves through a UV camera which highlighted previously unseen skin damage.  Many were shocked at what they saw, and then even more shocked when they saw how sunscreen can have such a dramatic positive effect.  To date, that piece has received over 14.7 million views.  It got people’s attention.

Then there is what I’d call extreme advocacy.  A good example is the “Truth” campaign against tobacco use.  Many of their ads depict deathly ill individuals or people who have been severely affected by smoking.  They don’t tell you that smoking is hazardous to your health; they flat out tell you that it can kill you through an ugly and horrid death.  The folks who advocate against underage drinking have also put out some effective ads.  One spot shows a mother talking to and putting earrings on her daughter, who lies dead in her coffin.  These are the types of ads that shock you…and get your attention.

The folks at Mollie’s Fund have recently released their own “extreme” ad.  Called “Free Killer Tan,” it shows free tanning sessions being offered in the city on a cold wintry day.  Promoters are walking the streets, holding signs and encouraging folks to warm up by getting a tan at “Vitamin Sun.”  Some patrons decide to check it out.  They enter the new tanning salon, complete with tanning products in their lobby.  After a quick sign-up, they’re given a towel and goggles and told to proceed down the hall way through a curtain.  What they find on the other side is a funeral parlor with a tanning bed instead of a coffin before pews of mourners.  Atop the coffin is a photo of the potential tanner with the statement “In Loving Memory.  You are gone but not forgotten”. 

So far, it has received about 300,000 views, but there’s a lot of buzz in online magazines and publications.  I suspect this ad will get many more views.  It’s getting people’s attention.

But not all aggressive advocacy needs to be surrounded by promises of death.  While many of us have followed traditional advocacy by placing “Melanoma Awareness” bumper stickers and magnets on our car, there’s one lady in California who has taken car accessorizing to a new level.  Take a look:

Yes, Kristi Donahue has plastered her Toyota with melanoma messages and images from top to bottom.  The car even displays dozens of photos of melanoma angels…those we’ve lost to the dreaded cancer. Her intent is to get the message out and it’s definitely working.  She shared one experience of driving her car to take her son to the lake to feed the ducks and ended up giving an impromptu lesson on melanoma awareness to curious passers-by.  Her message is being heard and her car is definitely getting attention!

I am very proud to be a part of melanoma advocacy.  My blog and Facebook postings fall within more traditional advocacy, but these aggressive campaigns are inspiring.  It shows me that we can go a little farther…dig a little deeper…and be encouraged that we are being heard.  Whether we shock the public or turn their heads with a loudly decorated car, we’re starting to get people’s attention!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Vaccines and Sunscreens

There’s a national debate going on about whether or not a child should be vaccinated.  I've not read all the details, but from what I gather, those opposed to vaccinations state that the vaccine itself has some cancer-causing chemicals within that could endanger the child.  Apparently there are documented cases of children becoming sick, afflicted or dying after being vaccinated.

On the other hand, those supporting vaccines have stated that the benefits of being vaccinated far outweigh any risk.  Cases of whooping cough are on the rise in one community where there lives a higher population of vaccine opponents.  The risk of being negatively affected by vaccine is less than 1/10 of one percent.  The benefits are that you won’t get measles, chicken pox and other diseases which are highly contagious and not fun illnesses to experience.  I've had chicken pox…it was like having fire ants on my body.  I also had shingles a few years ago.

For me personally, I would have chosen to vaccinate my kids even if it wasn't required by law.  It’s common sense (in my opinion) and helps to protect my kids and others with whom they come in contact.

I've seen this debate elsewhere, although possibly not as publicly.

There are some sunscreens which contain potentially cancer- or illness-causing chemicals.  Animal studies show that oxybenzone may have some affect on hormones.  Retinol, or Vitamin A has been shown to cause skin cancer in mice.  As a result, some people refuse to use sunscreens with these ingredients and opt for sun blockers such as zinc oxide.

Other reports show that the amount of retinol applied to the mice would be equivalent to applying gallons of sunscreen onto our body at one time.  If the proportions were equal, there’s a good chance that the little rodents would have been fine.

Overall, the medical community encourages wearing sunscreen.  The health benefits of protecting against skin cancer (and aging and wrinkles) far outweigh any risk of illness from the chemicals.

I choose to encourage my family and friends to apply sunscreen every day.  There are options with regard to sunscreen, and the recent passage of the Sunscreen Innovation Act will allow new chemistries to be considered, so perhaps the use of oxybenzone and retinol can be avoided after all.  Even so, I would recommend any sunscreen over none at all.

As for the hot debate, please have your child vaccinated.  There’s greater risk if you don’t and you negligence to not vaccinate your child may endanger another child.