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One-fifth of tanning salons still serve minors despite state bans

Researchers found that many of them also give false health information

Photo (c) romanruzicka - Fotolia
While current legislation in many states bans the use of tanning devices for minors, a new study shows that many tanning salons are flat-out ignoring the rule.

A team of researchers recently found that tanning salons in states that have these bans will often allow minors to use their facilities anyway. And, even worse, many of them make inaccurate health claims about how dangerous exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from tanning can be.

“While most businesses followed the indoor tanning ban when a minor called, one-fifth did not,” said lead researcher Leah Ferrucci. “Additional enforcement or education might increase compliance with indoor tanning bans and action is needed to prevent businesses from stating false health information.”

Ignoring bans

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there are currently 15 states that restrict consumers under the age of 18 or 17 from using indoor tanning facilities; they include California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Vermont, and Washington, as well as the District the Columbia. In all, 42 states have at least some restrictions on tanning facility use by minors.

To test compliance with the ban and see if correct health information was being given, research assistants posed as potential underaged clients and called tanning salons in several different states to see if they could make an appointment.

Of the 412 tanning salons that answered, just under 20% said that they would provide service to the minor calling. Another 12.4% gave an outright answer of “yes,” and 7.5% said that it depended on whether the minor had permission from an authorized health professional or guardian.

Geographically, the researchers found that tanning salons in the southern part of the U.S. were less likely to comply with the bans, with 28.7% saying that they would provide service for a minor. However, states that had the bans installed for at least two years had the best compliance (87.9%).

False health information

The researchers say their findings are particularly worrying because many tanning salons gave callers false or misleading information about the health risks associated with indoor tanning. Respondents often claimed that tanning would increase vitamin D production, improve the skin cosmetically, and treat skin diseases, all of which are patently false.

Further, the researchers say that only 10% of respondents denied any dangers associated with indoor tanning, while only 20.1% admitted that the practice could potentially cause skin cancer.

"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 Ferrucci.

The full study has been published in Translational Behavioral Medicine.

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