Maryland County Bans Tanning for People Under 18

Maryland's very own Howard County announced on Wednesday that it would enact the country's first ban on tanning for those under the age of 18. At a time when melanoma is the leading cause of cancer in the world is it the right time for local governments to step in and save teens from themselves?

Maryland Health Officer, Dr. Peter Beilenson, said in September, "People under the age of 35 who are exposed to indoor tanning have a 75 percent increased risk of skin cancer, and the younger you are exposed to indoor tanning, the greater your risk of getting potentially fatal melanoma." Ouch. Potentially fatal melanoma from tanning? Yikes. I am so glad that I was never an "outdoor kid" who loved to spend time outside constantly as a child. I am trying to erase sun damage now and am so thankful I enjoyed a steady diet of video games and television as much as I did. (I will be the first one to admit that doing so has a down side as well.)

What do you think about this? Is this going too far and taking away people's right to make their own choices? Often teens are required to have parental permission before they engage in tanning. Even if teens can't make their own choice, shouldn't their parents be able to make that choice for them? Isn't tanning a personal preference, like coloring your hair to become a blonde or a redhead? Is it the role of government to tell people that they can't chose to have a golden brown appearance year round? Don't we need Vitamin D anyway?

That is a lot to consider.

Sure, parents should probably be responsible for their children's actions. But do parents have all of the facts and are the risks associated with tanning even on their radar? Probably not. Similar to tobacco, old accepted habits die hard. It is your right to smoke and you have a right to tan. (Although legally in the state of MD you can't smoke under the age of eighteen either.) However, the fear of medical professionals in Howard County is that without understanding your actions today, you may be risking your life thirty years from now. With teens (and all of us) being exposed to thousands of images of beautiful, thin, sexy tanned people, it is only natural for young people to aspire to look like them.

"With melanoma now being the leading cause of cancer in the world, how could I do anything but support our health officer in this undertaking to be one of the first to ban tanning for minors?" said County Executive Ken Ulman of the new tanning rule.

Tanning on top of regular sun exposure (like walking or driving your car) will lead to serious skin damage, which can sometimes result in death. That sounds really scary to me. I don't think a lot of people realize that looking fantastic in a white dress now will mean you are likely to end up looking more like this:

The truth is that we do need Vitamin D to help avoid problems like muscle fatigue, lack of energy, heart disease and even cancer and diabetes. But how much do we need? According to the University of Florida*, we need 10-15 minutes of direct sunlight 2 to 3 times per week, this averages out to be around 40 mcg's per day. While it may be hard to get enough Vitamin D from foods, supplements are an easy way to make sure you get enough, without risking your precious skin.

It's my opinion
that the health benefits you receive from indoor tanning (to get your share of vitamin D) is at best an over statement and at worst a lie perpetrated by people selling tanning products to get you to spend your money. You do need vitamin D, but you don't need to risk fatal skin cancer by the age of 35 to get it.

Knowing the risks, what do you think of the new rules in Howard County? Should the government mind their own business or is it about time? Is tanning the new smoking?

Tell me in the comments!


Today, November 16, 2009, Baltimore county (also in Maryland) is considering requiring a teen to have a doctor's prescription in order to tan under the age of 18. Councilman Vincent Gardina said "Just because a parent gives permission does not mean this is right. By making it illegal for minors, we are making clear that this is a major health risk." "Overexposure to sun and increased use of tanning beds are direct links to skin cancer," said Dr. Gregory W. Branch, county health officer. "This is the same as the increased chance of lung cancer from cigarettes. This legislation is clearly a health benefit to constituents. It sends a message about how big a health risk this is." It looks like this legislation is taking off. Is taking out of parents hands a step too far by requiring a prescription? Tell me in the comments!

Update, November 17, 2009:

A proposal to restrict minors' use of tanning facilities in Baltimore County, and assess penalties on those who violate the law, failed Monday by a County Council vote of 2 to 5.

Two councilmen who voted against the measure said it would usurp parents' rights. Current state law allows those under age 18 to get such a tan with parents' permission.

*Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Florida Cooperative Extension Service,
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. First published: June 2001. Revised April 2009.

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