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Teens ignore tanning's risks

Salons serving minors face hefty fines in growing U.S. crackdown


A growing number of Canadian teens are ignoring health warnings in search of the ultimate tan by frequenting tanning salons.

TORONTO (Jun 25, 2004)

Jamie Browne first asked her mother if she could go to a tanning salon when she was 14.

"I started going to a tanning bed to get a base or whatever, which is what I do now,'' she said. Now, Jamie is three years older, and still tries to make it to a tanning salon about once a week.

She said she tans under the sun a lot, but prefers to shell out for a booth or a bed whenever she can afford it.

"I go to the salons when I have enough money because they're faster,'' said the Toronto-area high-school student. "I still go because I like the way my skin looks when I use tanning booths.''

Jamie is one of many teens who frequent tanning salons and spas despite mounting medical research that links the activity to serious health problems.

Last year, researchers found after an eight-year study of more than 100,000 Scandinavian women that frequent tanning booth users were 55 per cent more likely to develop malignant melanoma, a form of skin cancer.

At the end of May, lawmakers in the California assembly passed a bill that would ban teens 18 and under from tanning booths unless they have a prescription.

Backers of the bill, which is now going through the state senate, blamed tanning salons for part of the one million new cases of skin cancer diagnosed every year in the United States.

"If the law passes, there would be a fine imposed of $2,500 a day to the indoor tanning facility if it is found that they have in fact allowed minors to use the tanning beds,'' Karmi Ferguson, executive director of the California Society of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery, said from Sacramento.

As it is, California and 26 other states require permission from parents or guardians for teens to enter a tanning booth.

While neither Canada nor the provinces regulate the "fake bake'' industry, Health Canada did put out guidelines for tanning booth operators in 1999.

It recommends that clients consider talking to their family physicians about the risks of tanning before .

According to Health Canada, exposure to ultraviolet A and B radiation through any sort of tanning can cause sunburn, damage to your eyes and other health effects.

It also recommends that suntan salon operators ascertain a client's ability to tan, history of sunburns, rashes or other conditions.

It says this information should be used for exposure planning and to help clients understand how these factors interact with ultraviolet radiation.

Robert Muzzatti, owner of Off Beach Tanning in Toronto, says the benefits of tanning "far outweigh the hazards. The sun is the giver of all life,'' he said. "You absolutely need it to survive.''

Dr. Louis Weatherhead, a dermatologist in Ottawa, disagrees. He says he tells his patients that there is "no such thing as a healthy tan.''

"Exposure to ultraviolet rays is cumulative,'' he said. "Every time you expose yourself to the sun, you're starting where you left off.''

He says young people are likely worried about their skin colour because celebrities their age are permanently tanned.

"Young, old, or famous -- it's dangerous. I don't think anybody should be using tanning booths,'' he said.