State Lawmakers Considering New Rules on Tanning Beds

Tanning causes skin cancer. A tan body is sexy. Teenagers need to be protected from their own worst tanning instincts. Our nanny-state government doesn't need to be telling us who can tan and who can't.

Those are some of the arguments and issues Connecticut lawmakers will be weighing at a hearing this week on legislation to ban anyone under 18 from catching some rays at a tanning salon.

Well, technically a 16- or 17-year-old could climb into a tanning bed in Connecticut under this bill, but only if he or she had a doctor's written recommendation.

State Rep. Phil Miller, an Essex Democrat and co-vice chair of the legislature's Public Health Committee, is convinced the risks of skin cancer to young people are high enough to require state action. "We've seen now enough evidence," he insists.

Tom Kelleher, owner of a chain of 14 tanning salons in the New Haven and Hartford regions, thinks this kind of extreme government stuff is just dumb.

"You could close down every tanning salon in the world and it wouldn't stop people from tanning," he points out. "Hammonasset [Beach State Park] is a tanning salon. Our biggest competitor is the sun."

Connecticut isn't the only state looking to pull the plug on teen tanning.

California, which may have done more to popularize the tan than any place else in the world, last year became the first U.S. state to prohibit anyone under age 18 from using "tanning devices." Vermont and Illinois also recently passed their own tanning restriction laws, and similar legislation is working its way through several other legislatures around the U.S.

More than 30 states regulate indoor tanning one way or another, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Connecticut's current law requires anyone under age 16 to have written parental permission in order to use a tanning device.

The issue got ramped up last year when a deeply tanned (we're talking nut-colored here) New Jersey woman named Patricia Krentcil was charged with endangering her five-year-old daughter by putting her in a tanning bed.

Krentcil's child showed up at school last April with burns on her legs, and authorities charged Krentcil with violating a state law banning young kids from being put in tanning beds. Krentcil denied the claim, insisting her daughter got burned while outdoors swimming, and a New Jersey grand jury refused last month to indict her.

(The "Tanning Mom," as she became known on national TV, admits she may have gone a little overboard in frying her skin to the color of well-done bacon.)

Kelleher says his Tommy's Tanning salons already have their own protocols that require kids under 18 to get a parent's permission in order to get browned. "That's much better than the government telling you what to do," he says.

And his business doesn't rely on extreme tannists like Krentcil, Kelleher insists.

According to Kelleher, the medical evidence also isn't as one-sided as the anti-tanners would have you believe.

Ultra-violet rays, which cause the skin to tan and can also cause skin cancer, provide a person with D vitamins and may help ward off heart disease.

Then there's the issue of personal freedom and the problem of too much government interference in our lives.

"There are certainly those who feel this [Connecticut tanning bill] would be a restriction on our personal liberties... and I agree," Kelleher says.

He points out that, if the bill were to pass, a 16-year-old in Connecticut could get an abortion without parental consent but not a tan. "It's kind of bizarre," says Kelleher.

He also has little use for the argument that people need to be protected from tanning themselves to death. "You can over-do food; you can over-do sex... you can over-do almost anything," he says.

Miller acknowledges that "conscientious salons" do attempt to get parental permission when 16- and 17-year-olds want to tan, but he says that's simply not good enough.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Connecticut is among the 11 states that have the highest rates of skin cancer in the nation. A CDC report in 2009 put the skin cancer incidence rate in this state at between 23.1 and 32.6 cases per 100,000 people.

Since the state regulates and licenses indoor tanning facilities, Miller warns, allowing a teen to tan in one of these places "could put the state in a liability position" if the kid developed skin cancer.

"We have to change our attitudes," Miller adds, "to change the view that a tan body is desirable."

He also admits that's going to be real tough.

Says Miller: "It seems to be human nature, regardless of age, to use something like this too much for our own good."

The big tanning hearing is scheduled for Friday at the state Legislative Office Building and things could get pretty hot. You might want to bring some lotion to protect yourself from the glare.

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