By Health writer
updated 7/29/2009 8:16:55 PM ET 2009-07-30T00:16:55

Doctors have tried warning young people away from tanning beds for years, but their threats of skin cancer typically fell on deaf (but bronzed) ears. Until yesterday, that is, when it seems something clicked.

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International cancer experts announced on Tuesday that they now consider tanning beds and ultraviolet radiation among the top cancer risks — about as lethal as arsenic, mustard gas or cigarettes. And this time, tanning junkies appear to be listening.

“I mean, even just the headline,” says Jill Brizzi, who’s 26 and lives in Charlotte, N.C. ‘ Tanning beds as deadly as arsenic .’ Like, what? Isn’t that poison?”

Brizzi had been planning to stop by a tanning salon after work today, but changed her mind after reading the latest alert about her favorite guilty pleasure.

Tanning salons across the country are reporting a sudden spike in client cancelations, and staff members are fielding more questions about cancer risks from some of the nervous clients who do show up.

“We actually have had customers talking about it, and one did cancel a membership — she just got an annual membership on Sunday and … canceled because of that,” says Julia Mora, who works at Island Tan in Sacramento, Calif.

The new report, published in the medical journal Lancet Oncology, looked at 20 previous studies and concluded that the risk of skin cancer increased by 75 percent when people start using tanning beds before age 30.

Melanoma has traditionally been a disease of older people, but the deadly skin cancer is increasingly being diagnosed in young adults, especially women in their 20s. It's now the leading cancer diagnosed in British women in their 20s.

For 22-year-old Jenni Izzo, who's been a self-proclaimed tanning addict since she was a freshman in high school, hearing tanning beds placed on the same level as cigarettes in terms of cancer risk was shocking.

"I’m incredibly against cigarette smoking, never smoked a cigarette in my life, and to see something I do so often on the same basis as smoking was a wake-up call," says Izzo, who lives in Orlando, Fla. She now says she's sworn off tanning for good.

Facts about melanomaIzzo read about the new perspective on tanning risks the way many young people hear about potentially life-changing events: on Twitter. The site's been abuzz today with tanned tweeters responding to the news:

shutup!! omg i've been saying forever that I'm going to stop tanning, but wow now im seriously done! Xoxox

Pretty sure I'm going to cancel my tanning membership. "Beds compared to arsenic" is a little extreme for me!

I guess I am never going tanning again…

Not surprisingly, the indoor tanning industry takes issue with the new report.

"Essentially what they said was indoor tanning and outdoor tanning are the same thing," says Dan Humiston, president of the Indoor Tanning Association. "No one is going to be surprised to hear if you get a sunburn it’s not going to be good for you. That’s essentially what this is all about. It’s overexposure, and, yeah, it’s no good for you — we agree."

But, of course, some sun (or sun bed) worshippers will seek golden skin no matter what the risk. This morning, a well-meaning friend forwarded 23-year-old Cassandra Carpio an article about the heightened risks of tanning. Which reminded her — it's been a while since she'd been tanning!

"I read the article earlier this morning and went tanning this afternoon during lunch," admits Carpio, who hits the tanning salon about once a week. "You only live once! Everything else in the world is going to kill you eventually.At least I don’t smoke cigarettes."

When told the new report actually places the cancer risk of tanning beds at the same level as cigarettes, she's silent for a beat. "Oh no," she laughs sheepishly. "I’m going to die."

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