Some teenagers in the Garden State don't want the state to step between them and the tanning booth, something lawmakers appear poised to do amid increased public interest in the dangers of tanning.
Groups like the American Cancer Society are pushing a ban on indoor tanning for those under 18, a measure approved by the Assembly this week. That expands on a 2006 law that banned indoor tanning for children under 14 and required parental consent for those ages 14 to 17.
Supporters say indoor tanning increases the risk of melanoma, and cite estimates that one in three American 17-year-olds use indoor tanning beds. They also point to the high-profile case of Patricia Krentcil, a Nutley woman who was accused this month of taking her 5-year-old daughter into a tanning booth. That allegedly resulted in burns to the child's skin; Krentcil has pleaded not guilty to child endangerment.
And New Jersey, of course, has an outsized reputation for the young and fake-tanned, thanks to MTV's "Jersey Shore.
But some young tanners in the state say it's not the government's role to restrict their access to tanning salons, and warn a ban would affect young people and businesses across the state. California and Vermont are the only states that have outright bans on tanning for children under 18.
"It's our choice to tan if we really want to," said 16-year-old Sadie Stackhouse, who was standing outside the Salone Sole tanning salon in Hamilton on a recent Friday afternoon, hours before her prom. "And if our parents give us consent, it should be perfectly fine with the state."
But Helene Stackhouse, pulling up outside the salon to pick up her daughter, said she's beginning to think a tanning ban might make sense.
"We let her do it but the more they have on the news about how bad it is, we're probably better off that we don't do it until 18," she said.
About 2.3 million teens visit tanning salons every year, and about 30 million Americans overall, according to the Food and Drug Administration. UV exposure, from either the sun or a tanning bed, can cause skin cancer, burns, premature skin aging and eye damage, the FDA says.
Almost everyone at Sadie's school, Steinert High in Hamilton, tans for summer and special occasions, she said. She added that she's aware of the dangers.
Nick Sabato, 17, also thinks lawmakers should stay out of teen tanning. He was inside another Salone Sole location in Hamilton last week.
"I bet you kids eating sugar is more detrimental to them than being in a tanning bed, to their bodies," Sabato said. "And you don't need a parent's permission for that, do you?"
Victoria D'Antuono, who works at Tantopia in Trenton, said most of its customers are under 18 and noted that the salon offers special deals around prom season. D'Antuono has been tanning since age 15, but at 18, wouldn't be affected by the ban.
"It's not life-threatening, not being able to tan," D'Antuono said. But, she said, girls who tan like the look, and some people do it before vacation to avoid sunburns.
James Oliver, who owns 19 salons in New Jersey, told lawmakers last week the ban would mean a 20 to 25 percent drop in business, though he said teens make up a small percentage of his clientele.
But Assemblyman Gary Schaer, one of the bill's sponsors, doesn't think the ban will significantly hurt the tanning business.
"If you're telling me that it will, that so much of your business is dependent on 14- to 18-year-olds, then perhaps the problem is greater than we anticipated before this hearing," Schaer told industry advocates.
If the ban goes through, Stackhouse said she'd probably get a spray tan instead.
"Most of us know what can happen," Stackhouse said. "But most of us are just like, oh well, whatever."
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