Lawmakers hear testimony on Skin Cancer Prevention Act

Jan 26, 2013

LINCOLN--- In an emotionally charged hearing Friday, Nebraska legislators listened to supporters and opponents of the Skin Cancer Prevention Act.

If passed, the act (LB132) would ban anyone younger than age 18 from using indoor tanning beds at salons. “This is truly a matter of life and death and deserves our attention and action,” the act’s sponsor, Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha, said.

Nordquist said he introduced the measure because it’s a public health crisis. He cited the rise of cases of skin cancer among young women who use tanning beds as the reason for the legislation.

Proponent David Holmquist, a lobbyist for the Cancer Action Network and skin cancer survivor himself, said his organization stopped handing out sunscreen because it made people feel that it provided enough protection to tan safely. “Tanning bed use raises the risk of melanoma by 75 percent,” Holmquist said, adding that studies show sunscreen rated at SPF 45 provide insufficient protection.    

Opponent Barton Bonn of Omaha, owner of the Ashley Lynn’s Tanning franchise, said his chain preaches to tan safely. “The key is not to burn,” he said. Bonn said being tan is not a dangerous standard of beauty if it’s done safely by using the right time in the tanning bed. “Without sunburning, it’s a very healthy standard,” he said. “[Without tanning] you’re likely to be vitamin D deficient.”   

Dr. David Watts, an Omaha dermatologist, disagreed. “There’s no controversy, but there is spin,” he said. “You can get a melanoma without ever getting a burn,” Watts said.

As for obtaining vitamin D, bill proponent Dr. Stacie Bleicher, a Lincoln pediatrician, said getting it from food or from supplements was inexpensive and safer.

Bonn said this piece of strict legislation, where allowing a person under 18 to tan would result in a Class V misdemeanor, would be used to eventually close down tanning salons everywhere. He said people younger than 18 make up 5 percent of Ashley Lynn’s clientele. “I’d hate to see our industry cut off,” he said.

But supporter of the ban Jessica Guerrero, 26, a melanoma skin cancer survivor who started tanning at age 14, said this is not about closing tanning salons. She said that wasn’t necessary. “[This is about] saving young girls’ lives,” she said.

Guerrero, a registered nurse, said that since her diagnosis when she was 24, she has to think about the disease all the time. She listed constant doctor’s appointments, being immuno-compromised, and wearing sunscreen as measures that require more thought. “If I’m driving in my car, I have sunscreen on,” she said.

For medical reasons, opponent Deb Davis said she doesn’t want legislators telling her how to parent. She said she and her children have used tanning beds to cope with eczema and it has helped.

She said tanning has also helped avoid the financial burden of seeing a dermatologist. “For the financial cost, I don’t know what else we would do,” she said.

According to a 2011 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21 percent of all high school girls report having used indoor tanning beds and tanning salon patrons “tend to be young, non-Hispanic white women.”

In a tearful testimony, proponent Kasey Shriver, 21, said teens don’t understand the risks of tanning. Shriver was diagnosed with melanoma when she was 17. She started tanning three years earlier to prepare for a trip to Hawaii.

"I would like to say I live life with no regrets, but using that tanning bed for the first time when I was 14 will forever be my biggest regret," she said.