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Low prices and promos help tanning industry draw in young adults

Researchers want to warn consumers about the harmful practice

Photo (c) deepblue4you - Getty Images
Getting the perfect tan is at the forefront of many consumers’ minds during these summer months, so it’s not uncommon for some people to spend hours in the sun -- or in a tanning bed.

Despite the well known risks associated with indoor tanning, the industry has taken to slashing prices and offering customers promotions to help keep them coming back to tanning beds. One study suggests that this practice is particularly harmful to younger consumers.

“This study highlights the fact that a lot of businesses out there are providing this service at a low cost which removes a barrier to adolescents and young adults,” said researcher Nancy Asdigian. “Young people who want to tan do so when they can afford it and don’t when they can’t. The industry capitalizes on this with the strategies they use to price and promote this risk behavior.”

What’s the tan worth?

To get an idea of how the tanning industry continues to bring in hoards of customers, the researchers contacted over 90 tanning locations in six cities across the country, all ranging in their regulations of indoor tanning and overall climate.

The study included facilities in Pittsburgh, Denver, Boston, Portland, Austin, and Akron, and the researchers weren’t limited strictly to tanning salons, as many gyms, hair salons, and apartment complexes offer tanning services.

Forty of the 94 locations weren’t traditional tanning salons, and in 35 percent of these spots, customers were offered tanning at no extra cost. At tanning salons, services weren’t offered for free, but customers did receive regular promotions to try to keep them coming back.

According to Asdigian, many of the locations they reached out to offered customers monthly plans, similar to gym memberships. The added caveat was that the more customers went tanning, the cheaper the sessions would be, with some locations offering one session for as little as one dollar.

Indoor tanning doesn’t have nationwide regulations; each state is able to decide which restrictions are placed on the practice. And while many states have mandated that 18 is the legal age to use an indoor tanning bed, and a nationwide tax has been implemented on tanning, lawmakers are unable to monitor how tanning salons market their product to people.

“A next step is to work with policymakers to restrict the use of discounts and deals to lure customers,” said researcher Lori Crane.

Bans might not be the answer

Despite 20 states across the country requiring all tanning salon customers to be at least 18 years of age, researchers found that over one-third of tanning salons kept their doors open to underage teens.

A similar study found that not only are minors gaining access to tanning beds, but tanning salons are also not being completely transparent about the harms of indoor tanning.

Researchers found that just over 20 percent of tanning customers knew that indoor tanning could cause cancer, while others had been told at their tanning facility that UV exposure could actually provide them with health benefits.

"Enacting well-crafted age restriction laws to maximize compliance through enforcement of penalties on the state level and moving towards a national ban with similar accompanying strong enforcement as proposed by many national and international health organizations are essential to reduce skin cancer risk in the vulnerable youth population," said researcher Leah Ferrucci.

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