Today, December 18, 2015, the Federal Drug Administration announced a proposal of new rules that would ban anyone under 18 from using tanning beds or tanning booths. In addition, they would require that tanning facilities obtain a client’s signature that he/she acknowledges the risk to one’s health when using such devices. They also propose that all tanning devices be labeled with a warning that UV radiation can cause skin cancer, skin burns, premature skin aging, and eye damage (both short- and long-term). This is an effort by the FDA to “improve consumers’ understanding of the risks related to UV radiation exposure.” 1
The primary resource for the FDA’s decision is a 2012 publication by the British Medical Journal (“Cutaneous Melanoma Attributable to Sunbed Use: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis”) which concludes that “sunbed use is associated with a significant increase in risk of melanoma. This risk increases with number of sunbed sessions and with initial usage at a young age (<35 years). The cancerous damage associated with sunbed use is substantial and could be avoided by strict regulations.”2 The study cites well-documented statistics such as tanning beds may emit 10-15 times stronger UV radiation that the sun, UV radiation is classified as a carcinogen, and tanning bed use results in a 75% increase in risk of melanoma (from 40% to 228%) when indoor tanning starts during adolescence or young adulthood.
The public (including up to 19,000 tanning salons) has 90 days to share comment on the proposal.
This is indeed a great day in the fight against skin cancer and melanoma. For years, the FDA has been asked to take more action against the use of tanning beds. Citing the administration’s bans and warnings on tobacco use, the argument was made that more cases of cancer were caused by tanning beds than cases of lung cancer caused by cigarettes. Today’s action by the FDA is a long time coming.
But this does not close the book on skin cancer prevention. While there will be harsher warning labels attached to the equipment, the age restrictions apply only to facilities that offer tanning services, such as tanning salons and “health” clubs. The restrictions do not apply to personal tanning beds. Additionally, once an individual reaches the age of 18, tanning bed use will be allowed, although the FDA proposal requires disclosure of health risks before allowing an individual to use such a device. The only real weapon against such use will be in public education.
There are efforts and organizations that are devoted to educating the public on the risks of UV radiation, both from tanning devices and from the sun. One such organization is the Melanoma Education Initiative. Founded in 2011, the MEI has been raising awareness about the dangers of melanoma by visiting middle schools with an interactive presentation, visiting high schools and colleges with harder-hitting presentations including first-hand and graphic accounts of melanoma, distributing educational material at community health fairs, and participating in health and wellness events for companies and organizations.
When asked why founder Beth Mancini didn’t just join forces with existing organizations such as the Melanoma Research Foundation, AIM at Melanoma, or others, she responded that “many organizations out there raise money for research which will benefit patients down the road, but we wanted to save lives in a more immediate way by educating people about early detection and prevention. We couldn't find an organization … educating in the way we wanted to, thus, Melanoma Education Initiative was born.” The MEI was founded and continues advocating near Akron, OH, however Beth. Mancini and her family now reside in North Carolina. She hopes to expand the MEI efforts within the Tarheel State and beyond.
Much like the aggressive anti-tobacco “truth” campaign to curb youth smoking in the US, the MEI and other organizations hope to equally educate teens and young adults about the dangers of UV radiation. I encourage you to offer your support to the MEI, or any such educational group in your area as they are in desperate need of volunteers. While today’s FDA announcement is a red-letter date in skin cancer awareness, the real work of education the public needs to continue.
For more information on the Melanoma Education Initiative, visit their website at http://www.melanomaeducationinitiative.org/. You can also contact Beth Mancini directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES; Food and Drug Administration; 21 CFR Parts 1002 and 1040 [Docket No. FDA-1998-N-0880 (formerly 1998N-1170)] RIN 0910-AG30 Sunlamp Products; Proposed Amendment to Performance Standard.
- Boniol, M., P. Autier, P. Boyle, and S. Gandini, “Cutaneous Melanoma Attributable to Sunbed Use: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis,” British Medical Journal, 345:e8503, December 2012.