While New Jersey has gained another quasi-celebrity figure to be ashamed of, all of the attention Patricia Krentcil, aka Tanning Mom, has received in recent weeks may inadvertently do some good.
The New Jersey General Assembly’s Women and Children Committee passed a measure on May 14 that would ban anyone under the age of 18 from using a tanning bed or booth emitting UV radiation, and only allow sunless tanning and spray tans for 14- to 17-year-olds with parental permission. From there, the measure goes to the General Assembly to be discussed and either approved or rejected by all members of the legislative body. If it passes the General Assembly vote, the measure would expand a 2006 law that focused on prohibiting those under 14 from using tanning beds and those aged between 14 and 17 from tanning without parental consent.
The potential for tanning beds and booths to cause skin cancer is well known and well documented, yet California and Vermont are the only two states that completely ban minors from tanning until they are 18. (Thirty-three states presently regulate how minors use tanning beds, and 23 states have introduced legislation focusing on tanning since 2011.) However, salon owners, tanning enthusiasts and others are questioning whether the proposed change to New Jersey law is warranted and worth the drop in business tanning salons will surely experience, or if it is merely just a political step being taken due to the negative press surrounding Tanning Mom.
I hope the Assembly passes the bill and bans minors from using tanning beds. Will some teens do so anyway? Yes, but that doesn’t change the fact that making it harder for them to do so may help prevent some of them from developing cancer years or decades down the road. The Food and Drug Administration says that tanning devices are “more dangerous than previously thought” and pose “serious health risks.” Dangers the FDA has linked to tanning beds and booths include skin cancer, skin burns (like what Tanning Mom’s 5-year-old daughter purportedly had), premature skin aging, and short and long-term eye damage.
Tanning beds and booths are even more harmful for children and teens. An adolescent’s skin is believed to be more susceptible to cancer because their cells are dividing and changing with a greater frequency that slows as the human body ages. This actually holds true long after individuals leave their teenage years behind them; a CDC report from just last week stated that indoor tanning before the age of 35 increases the risk of developing melanoma by a whopping 75 percent.
If we can protect minors from developing unhealthy tanning habits—and lessen their risk of getting dangerous medical conditions—before they reach the age of 18, then to me the bill passed by the Assembly’s Women and Children Committee is absolutely meritorious. And, while I’d cringe to say thank you in person, I’d have to give Tanning Mom props for indirectly calling attention to the dangers of tanning.