Anyone under the age of 18 would be banned from using tanning beds in Illinois under legislation being considered by the state legislature.
Current law – one of the strictest in the nation – prohibits everyone under the age of 14 to tan and requires that 15, 16 and 17-year-olds be accompanied by a parent.
The Indoor Tanning Association opposes the bill and argues that the rules already in place in Illinois are more than sufficient, and would consider any more regulations as another blow to their industry that was hit with a 10 percent tanning tax last year.
“Right now, there are too many young people using tanning facilities, and they don’t understand the future consequences of tanning,” said Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston), chief sponsor of the bill. “It’s well known now that ultra-violet rays are a cause of skin cancer, and it makes sense to ban it for children.”
A 2009 World Health Organization study found that the risk of melanoma jumps by 75 percent in people who used tanning beds in their teens and 20s. Gabel said the study inspired her to introduce stricter regulations for the 1,500 tanning salons in Illinois.
Melanoma was a risk Lindsay Walker said she knew nothing about when she started tanning at 15.
Walker thought a tan made her look healthy and beautiful, so she made sure to tan before school dances and before hitting the beach. Soon, the Tinley Park resident was tanning twice a week, and, even though salons allow only one session in a 24-hour period, she would sometimes visit two salons in one day if an important event like prom was around the corner.
By the time Walker was 21, she had been diagnosed with Stage 3 melanoma skin cancer and underwent three surgeries and chemotherapy, which left her in a wheelchair for six months, almost bald, and with 26 scars from skin cancer removals.
“I never thought tanning would have a long term effect like this,” said Walker, now 23. “It’s the complete opposite of what I was going for.”
But with the regulations already in place, changes aren’t necessary, said Marty Gallagher, chair of the Political Action Committee for the Indoor Tanning Association.
“There are already systems in place to protect children and all of our consumers,” he said.
The Indoor Tanning Association requires certified operators to administer a skin type test before allowing customers to tan, and limits exposure to 20 minutes in a 24-our period, as well as ensuring that customers wear protective goggles and are at least 18 and have a parent with them to physically consent.
“The Illinois regulations are already very comprehensive,” said John Overstreet, executive director of the Indoor Tanning Association. “Beyond these rules, this is an inappropriate role for government to take. We are talking about getting a sun tan, and the government shouldn’t be sticking their nose in the middle of it.”
Nearly 69,000 U.S. cases of melanoma were diagnosed last year, and about 8,650 people died, which is the reason why the American Cancer Society and other health advocacy groups want state legislatures to pass stricter tanning regulations.
“This is preventable, and one way to prevent this is to not use tanning beds,” said Samantha Guild, patient advocate for the AIM at Melanoma group. “We need to protect our children from using a device that can potentially kill them.”
Now that Walker knows the risks involved in tanning, she takes time off when she gets a break from nursing school to share her story in schools and throughout the state.
“Tanning didn’t seem like a huge decision at the time, but it has had such a huge impact on my life and my body,” Walker said. “I wish it could be banned for everyone, but keeping kids safe would be a good start.”