Saturday, June 2, 2012

How about warning labels on tanning beds?

It's become a well-documented public health disaster, but that doesn't mean for-profit indoor tanning is likely to disappear anytime soon. While I'd love to see tanning salons legislated out of existence, the best we can hope for in the short term are restrictions (at the state level) on their use by minors.
Tobacco use and chronic tanning both release
dopamine and endorphins into the bloodstream
that stimulate the pleasure center of the brain,
so it's no surprise that subtle warnings
like this don't work.
This is a burgeoning $2.6 billion industry with more outlets in many U.S. cities than there are Starbucks, and is seemingly just as caffeinated. As we saw in May during Melanoma Awareness Month, it will aggressively defend its turf against its detractors.
Despite pushing a dangerous, poorly regulated product that can cause cancer, one need only look at the tobacco industry to appreciate the difficulty of shutting down a PR-savvy, highly popular and profitable business. Almost 50 years after the Surgeon General's report on the health risks of smoking, tobacco still accounts for more than 400,000 deaths a year in the United States. This makes smoking the largest preventable cause of death among all Americans.

No one was cooler
than James Dean with
a Chesterfield dangling
from his lips. He looks
pretty tanned too.
Sadly, it may take the equivalent of an emaciated "Marlboro Man" dying of lung cancer and speaking through a tracheotomy for some people to make the connection between UV rays and skin cancer. It's a statistical certainty that some of the people who today advocate for the indoor tanning industry will eventually be diagnosed with melanoma. We may, in a few years, see their scars and hear their tales of remorse.
In the meantime, the incidence of melanoma among young white women, in particular, is spiking. Cigarettes made an earlier generation look cool before it made millions sick with a range of diseases. Tanned skin remains the conceit of many today--both male and female, young and old--and the tanning industry is their cynical accomplice in achieving the look to which they aspire. Dermatologists, surgeons and oncologists will no doubt be there to treat them when the day comes that they need medical attention. Not all will survive.

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