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Get teens off tanning beds: Canadian Cancer Society

The western branch of the Canadian Cancer Society is calling on the British Columbia and Yukon governments to ban the use of artificial tanning by…

The western branch of the Canadian Cancer Society is calling on the British Columbia and Yukon governments to ban the use of artificial tanning by minors.

“It’s like alcohol or tobacco … we know that we need to protect children under the age of 18; they don’t always make the best choices for themselves — so as adults we have a responsibility,” said Sharon Storoschuk, the Canadian Cancer Society’s manager of health promotion for BC and the Yukon.

The Cancer Society has already approached the BC government regarding the ban, and intends to contact the Yukon government in the near future.

Currently, no age restrictions exist on Canadian tanning facilities — although many impose self-regulations such as requiring parental consent for persons under 18.

A contributing factor towards calling for the ban stemmed from findings that 27 per cent of all females between the ages of 16-24 are using artificial tanning, said Storoschuk.

While safe alternatives to tanning may exist, such as spray-on tanning or self-tanning creams, the important thing is to change perceptions regarding tanned skin, said Storoschuk.

“Tanned skin is damaged skin … it might be sexy, it might be trendy, but it’s unhealthy. So I think we need to change our perception as a society that the tanned look is a healthy look,” said Storoschuk.

In January, the province of New South Wales in Australia began plans for legislation that would prevent under-18 tanning.

The move was prompted by news that 79 per cent of Australian school students actively sought a tan, and cited burning as a good way to get one.

“If you ban teen tanning, do you think that’s going to stop a teen from tanning? — No,” said Steve Gilroy, executive director of the Joint Canadian Tanning Association, a Kelowna-based tanning lobby group.

“They’re going to find other ways to do it. They’re going to buy home units and do it in an uncontrolled scenario. And they’re going to tan outside in an uncontrolled scenario,” he said.

“We believe that parents should have the right to make the decision (on whether their adolescent child tans). A survey that we did in 2006 showed that 66 per cent of parents would rather have parental consent than a ban,” said Gilroy.

Gilroy said that cancer statistics were misleading.

“If you look at increases in cancer rates over the last 20 years, they’re actually decreasing from melanoma. The only age group that actually is increasing is 50 plus — and those are not our clients,” said Gilroy.

In its 2008 annual report, the Canadian Cancer Society stated that melanoma rates were increasing.

The society related the increase to “more leisure time spent in the sun without adequate protection and improvements in the detection of the disease.”

Whitehorse-based tanning salons are unfazed by the announcement.

“I think (the ban) is a very reasonable thing. If people are unsure if there’s benefits or if there’s some sort of future problems coming from (tanning), I don’t think it’s an unreasonable thing to wait until they’re the age of majority,” said Lee Randell, general manager of Peak Fitness.

If the ban is implemented, Randell doesn’t expect to see any significant reductions in business.

“(Teens) are by far a minority of our users,” he said.

“We don’t feel that many people under 18 come into our salons (to tan) anyways … I don’t think it’s a huge deal,” said an employee at Hair Sensations on Main Street.

Gilroy maintained that a ban might rob teens of the important health benefits resulting from tanning.

“Ninety per cent of all your vitamin D comes from (sunlight) — that’s pretty significant,” he said.

The Canadian Cancer Society estimates that 4,600 cases of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, will occur in 2008, with 910 resulting in death.

Non-melanoma skin cancers result in 76,000 cases annually in Canada, with 260 resulting in death.