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.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Dear State Representative

Several states now have legislation under consideration regarding the banning of tanning beds for minors.  This is incredible…but we need your help.  Below is an example letter one might write to his/her state representative, provided by AIM at Melanoma.  This particular letter is written with the North Carolina legislature in mind.  If you live in another state which has pending legislation, you can certainly adjust this letter accordingly for your particular state.

In addition to the copy below, you should also personalize the letter a bit by including your own experience.  Letters which do not appear as form letters have a greater impact, so put some thought and heart into it!

For North Carolinians, I included a few links to the General Assembly after the letter below.  Please make sure to scroll down and check them out.

Here’s the letter:

Dear Mr./Ms. State Representative,

As your constituent, and AIM at Melanoma supporter, I strongly urge you to support HB 18 in order to protect minors under 18 from the known dangers of tanning beds.

I feel it is extremely important to protect our youth from this known human carcinogen. The World Health Organization labeled UV radiation from tanning beds as “carcinogenic to humans.”  They are in the same risk category as cigarettes and we do not allow anyone under the age of 18 to purchase tobacco products. 

In 2013, over 76,600 new melanoma cases will be diagnosed in the U.S. of which 2,620 of those melanoma cases will be reported in North Carolina.

In the last thirty years, the incidence of melanoma among young women has increased as much as 50 percent. Melanoma is now the second most common cancer in women aged 20-29. It is the leading cause of cancer death in women ages 25-30 and is second only to breast cancer in women aged 30-34. The rising rate of melanoma is, in part, due to the popularity of tanning salons among young women. Those who begin tanning before the age of 35 increase their melanoma risk by 87 percent.

The current statute does not protect all of North Carolina's youth from the dangers of indoor tanning beds. The indoor tanning industry continues to deny known risks of indoor tanning beds. The industry also provides false and misleading statements to teens and their parents about the health benefits of indoor tanning beds.

In addition, unlike other Group 1 carcinogens such as alcohol and tobacco, allowing parents to decide whether their children can use a tanning bed sends a confusing message about the dangers of artificial UV exposure, which is 10-15 times the concentration of the sun.

The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Dermatology have recommended that no one under the age of 18 use tanning parlor radiation.

In the interest of protecting teens from the early onset of serious medical conditions, I strongly urge you to support HB 18.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Again, please make necessary adjustments for your state and include your own experience with melanoma and tanning.

Here are some links to help you out.

Click here website for the North Carolina General Assembly.  Make sure to select “Who Represents Me?” to find out your representative.

Click here for a direct link to the Youth Skin Cancer Prevention Act, or House Bill 18 (HB18).  You can monitor the status here.

You may notice that the bill is currently under review by the Committee on Health and Human Services.  Click here for a link to this committee and links to all the current committee members.  I suggest you write to these folks as well!  hey meet every Tuesday at 10:00AM.

With your help in North Carolina, and all across the country, we can ban the tan!

Monday, February 4, 2013

World Cancer Day...February 4, 2013

February 4, 2013 is World Cancer Day.  This is a day when the world’s health organizations join together to tell the world that cancer is a global health priority.  According to the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), which organizes this event, 7.6 million lives are lost each year to cancer.  That’s more than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. 

This year’s primary message is to dispel the following myths of cancer:

1.       Cancer is just a health issue.  It’s more than that…it has far-reaching socioeconomic and human rights implications.

2.       Cancer is a disease for the rich, elderly and those in developed countries.  Cancer is a global epidemic affecting all classes and races, with a majority of the burden placed upon developing countries.

3.       Cancer is a death sentence.  Cancers that were once considered can now be cured or are highly treatable.  We have a way to goes, but we’ve also come a long way.

4.       Cancer is my fate.  A third of the most common cancers can be prevented with certain lifestyle choices.

 Of course, we who attempt to raise awareness for melanoma have our own set of myths to dispel:

1.       Tanning doesn’t cause skin cancer.  Several studies link all tanning to basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.  Studies have also shown that tanning bed use increases the risk of melanoma by 75%.

2.       You need to tan to get the proper dose of Vitamin D.  While sunlight offers a healthy dose of Vitamin D, it takes less than 20 minutes of exposure to get a daily dose.  Also, most dermatologists will recommend meeting your Vitamin D needs with proper food (milk, yogurt, salmon, etc) or Vitamin D supplements. I have been taking supplements for a couple of years now and my Vitamin D levels have been great!

3.       Getting a base tan offers sun protection.  A base tan is a sign of skin damage that has already occurred.  It is not safer.

4.       Skin cancer can be simply cut out.  Even simple cut-outs can be disfiguring, and in the case of melanoma (and squamous cell), it can spread to other parts of the body if even one cell is missed.  And those who had melanoma removed have a 30% chance of it reemerging.

My life was touched by melanoma when my brother was diagnosed with it and eventually died from it.  My life was touched by cancer before that when my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer after a life-time of smoking, and died in 2005.  I personally had a scare as I was suspected of having prostate cancer several years ago.  I had to undergo two very painful biopsies until I was finally deemed as being clear of cancer.  Cancer has touched my life as I’m sure it has done yours.

Make the proper choices in life to prevent cancer.  If you smoke…stop!  If you tan…stop!  Make sure to discuss possible screenings with your doctor and specific specialists.  My wife gets her mammogram every year.  We all get our skin checked every year.  And this week I’ll be having my first colonoscopy to be screened for colon cancer.  It may not always be a comfortable experience, but it could be a life-saving experience.

There will be nothing “happy” about World Cancer Day until cancer is no longer around to have a day.  So “celebrate” by asking yourself if you’re doing all you can to prevent and defeat cancer…all cancer.