Is a tan worth risking cancer?

If we are serious about health care reform and containing the skyrocketing cost of our health care system, then we need to put more emphasis on preventing disease. It seems obvious to me that, whenever possible, it is cheaper to prevent disease than treat disease.

Sixty percent of all cancers are preventable. Changes in behavior, such as eating healthy, being physically active, staying away from tobacco, limiting sun exposure and staying out of tanning beds can all lower cancer risks. Most of us know the benefits of eating healthy and exercising, as well as the dangers of sun exposure and tobacco. However, there is a lot of misinformation about ultraviolet (UV) tanning beds. The tanning industry commonly targets our youth with false claims of health and skin benefits.

In fact, the International Agency for Research on Cancer raised the classification of UV-emitting indoor tanning devices to the highest level of cancer risk – Group 1 – “carcinogenic to humans,” the same level as tobacco and asbestos. They also found the risk of melanoma goes up 75 percent when tanning bed use begins before the age of 30. Increased tanning bed use is adding to the rapidly rising melanoma rates among young people, especially young women. Sadly, West Virginia’s melanoma rates are higher than the national average.

The West Virginia Senate passed Senate Bill 464, Regulating Tanning Facilities, on March 18, 2013, and sent the bill on to the West Virginia House of Delegates for their pending approval. Our legislature now has the opportunity to move legislation forward that will prevent children under the age of 18 from accessing UV tanning beds. If this bill becomes law, it will prevent many cancer diagnoses and save lives.

I encourage our lawmakers to pass the ban on UV tanning beds for children under the age of 18.

Tom Riddle


EDITOR’S NOTE: Tom Riddle is a volunteer with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.