The Canadian Paediatric Society says exposure to UVA/UVB rays as teens increases risk of skin cancer exponentially.
Twenty-five per cent of adolescents in Canada between the ages of 13 and 19 have begun commercial indoor tanning – some so much that Canadian paediatricians say it has become an unhealthy habit affecting both their bodies and their minds.
The Canadian Paediatric Society wrote in a position statement released in the February issue of the Paediatrics and Child Health Journal that it supports legislation to ban tanning in commercial indoor tanning facilities for youth under 18.
Currently, Nova Scotia and southern Vancouver Island are the only jurisdictions in Canada to pass such laws.
“Government has a responsibility to protect children and youth,” says Dr. Richard Stanwick, president-elect for the society and co-author of the position statement. “It’s time to take action for this particularly vulnerable age group.”
The society joins the following organizations in supporting the ban: the World Health Organization, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Dermatology Association, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
In the journal’s position statement, it says melanoma has increased threefold in the last 35 years. Stanwick says this is due to the increased number of tanning salons in the last few decades.
Twenty years ago, Stanwick says that Victoria, B.C. had only a handful of tanning salons. There are now over 60. The Calgary Yellow Pages online brings up 88 listings for tanning salons. These businesses offer the opportunity to get a tan 365 days a year.
In the position statement, it says the World Health Organization has declared that ultraviolet radiation from the sun and from tanning beds in much higher concentration do cause cancer.
The organization has classified indoor tanning beds as a Class 1 physical carcinogen, putting the beds at the same cancer-causing level as asbestos and cigarettes.
Stanwick says that the UVA/UVB rays in an indoor tanning bed are 10 to 15 times stronger than the noon sun.
“You could get a tan in ten minutes that would probably take you all day if you tried to do this outside,” he says.
As this trend becomes more and more popular, the Alberta Cancer Foundation projects that in the year 2015, 570 new cases of melanoma will occur in Alberta alone, and 80 Albertans will die from the disease that same year.
“The sooner you start, the sooner you’re going to develop cancer,” Stanwick says.
The Canadian Cancer Society says that anyone who uses an indoor tanning bed before the age of 35 increases their chance of developing melanoma by 75 per cent.
Tracy Pallister, a 23-year-old tanning technician at Fabutan, has been actively using indoor tanning beds since she was 16 years old.
Pallister acknowledges that in high school she did not tan responsibly, purposely burning herself. However, now that she has the appropriate knowledge, she says she is not concerned about damage to her health.
“I’m not going to be ashamed of it,” she says. Pallister says she has had fun doing it and this shows.
She does, however, agree that the media plays a dominant role in influencing teens to take up the tanning lifestyle.
While Pallister started tanning to help clear her teenage acne, she became used to the bronzed look so much that now she says the second she sees her skin lightening, she feels the need to get back in the bed.
“It provides a euphoric-type feeling,” she says. “You feel a lot better in and out.” She adds that a tan helps to hide imperfections of a young adult growing up.
The society’s position statement says that this is a common feeling among indoor tanners.
“While not yet formally recognized as a psychiatric disorder, a condition known as tanorexia — becoming obsessed with, even addicted to tanning, and believing oneself to be unattractively pale even when quite tanned — has been described, and appears as a formal entry in the current Oxford dictionary.”
Pallister acknowledges that it is important to know when enough is enough, to make sure the skin does not burn and to use proper salon-grade tanning and skin care products.
She says that to her knowledge, there are only about six consistent teen clients at her salon location in northeast Calgary. She says the majority of Fabutan’s clients are of 18 to 50 years of age.
Stanwick argues that because teens only constitute about two per cent of the industry’s total client base, the passing of this law should not be an economic concern for salons. They should be concerned for “the greater good” of Canada’s youth, he says.
Pallister does, however, express concern that passing the law would violate a parent’s right to make the decision for their child whether or not to let them tan. She says that Fabutan already has a strict parental consent policy that requires consent for youth under 19 years old.
When asked how he felt about the argument of violating parents’ rights, Stanwick says that indoor tanning is exclusively a decision only to be made by fully informed adults, just like smoking tobacco or drinking alcohol. He says tanning is the body’s reaction to damaging its DNA and therefore should be put off until adulthood.
Stanwick hopes to see the ban go nation-wide just as tobacco and alcohol has. However, he assumes it will be a gradual process province by province.
Though he does point out that California has passed this legislation and there are more people there than in all of Canada — hope is not lost that the federal government will see the importance of this issue.
Stanwick says the most important steps to preventing melanoma and healthy skin are awareness of the effects of tanning and the use of tanning products. He also says it is important to have a strong relationship with a doctor or a dermatologist who can check your skin frequently for early signs of melanoma.