No More GTL: NY Considers Teen Tanning Ban

By Michael Gormley
|  Thursday, May 5, 2011  |  Updated 7:12 AM EDT
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Ana Sutphen, 15, of Malta, N.Y., poses for a photograph next to a tanning bed at the Total Tan salon in Malta, N.Y. New York state is trying to become the first to ban indoor tanning for all minors.

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Fulfilling the "Jersey Shore" mantra of G.T.L. — gym, tanning, laundry — may soon be a lot harder for teenagers in New York as the state tries to become the first to ban indoor tanning for all minors.

The industry considers a bill before the Legislature to be another "nanny state" assault on their business, and the proposal comes at the height of the indoor tanning season for teens: prom time.

The American Cancer Society has named the bill as one of its top priorities for the legislative session.

"It can be horrific," said Harvey Weisenberg, a Long Island life guard for 50 of his 77 years and the Assembly sponsor of the bill. "This is a cancer-causing process. They do it for proms. They do it for special occasions. ... There is lots of evidence."

The Democrat need look not look far for examples. His leg was treated for skin cancer two weeks ago, and he still works as a lifeguard.

"You see these young girls with scarred faces — young girls — what else do you need to know?" Weisenberg said.

Jackie Paquet, of Ballston Spa, N.Y., doesn't see the need for a ban. Now 19, she has used indoor tanning booths since she was 15 and now works at Total Tan in the Saratoga County town of Malta, where no more than 20 percent of customers are under 18. She thinks the cancer scare is overblown.

"It only happens if you really abuse it," she said.

Ana Sutphen, 15, of Malta, was waiting for two of her friends who were tanning in the booths in the neat, airy and professional office space. She has tried indoor tanning once herself and is considering more visits. She doesn't believe the cancer scares.

"I think that's stupid," she said of a potential ban.

The World Health Organization states that the $1 billion industry uses some machines that can provide five times the ultraviolet radiation of the midday sun, one of many assertions disputed by the industry.

More than two dozen states regulate indoor tanning of minors. New York is among at least a half-dozen that bars it for children under 14, and it currently requires parental permission for tanners 14 to 17 years old.

The American Cancer Society is pushing New York to become the first state to end tanning for all children in part because passage here could help get bills passed elsewhere around the country. About 20 states have bills that would ban tanning for those under 18. Some localities, including Howard County in Maryland and in Canada already have bans for youths.

"Kids can get an abortion without parental permission, but you can't get a tan," said Dan Humiston, president of the national Indoor Tanning Association, which is fighting the measure. He owns 41 Tanning Bed stores from Buffalo to Utica.

Packages can run from about $40 a month for once a week tanning to "unlimited" tanning for about $80 a month.

"There is no scientific basis for those folks to want to ban teenagers," said John Overstreet, spokesman for the Indoor Tanning Association. Pressed for evidence, he said studies can't usually prove a negative — such as there is no threat.

"It certainly is a nanny state type of thing," Overstreet said.

He said foundations supporting research, which he finds faulty and biased, are financially supported by sunscreen manufacturers. The prominent Skin Cancer Foundation, for example, is funded by more than 50 sunscreen, makeup and skin care companies and drug store chains, according to its website.

"People think there is a pure motive behind this, but it's all driven by money," Overstreet said.

The New York senator who wrote the law banning indoor tans for those under 14 said a ban for those under 18 is essential, in part because skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer.

"We've gotten calls from individual owners around the state because kids under the age of 18 seem to be their most frequent customers," said state Sen. Charles Fuschillo, a Nassau County.

In New York, bills with sponsors from the majority party in each house, as this one has, usually have an easy time making it into law.

"We're optimistic," said Russell Sciandra of the American Cancer Society in New York. He said the current effort is bolstered by a February report by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"Rates of skin cancer — including melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer — continue to rise, even in young people," the academy found. "Along with the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Dermatology, the AAP supports legislation prohibiting access to tanning salons or use of artificial tanning devices by children under the age of 18."

There is one area of agreement. Each side says "Jersey Shore," the MTV reality show starring bronzed, partying New Yorkers at a New Jersey beach house, is bringing attention to the issue.

"Some markets, we may have even seen a pushback, because certainly members say, 'I don't want to be like those kids,'" said Humiston, the industry association president. "In some markets, it helps."

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