Miss Florida Teen USA Kayla Collier was 15 when she first visited a tanning salon so the stage lights at a local pageant wouldn’t make her fair skin look ghostly white.
Later that year, as she tried on homecoming dresses, her mother noticed what looked like a scab on her back. It turned out to be skin cancer.
And though she can’t definitively link the tanning to the cancer, Collier, now 18 and healthy, won’t be back under the bulbs. On Wednesday, her voice catching, she asked Sunshine State lawmakers to ban people under 16 from using tanning beds.
“I know teenagers that go every day, every week, twice a day sometimes to tanning beds,” said Collier, who wore her sash and a sunshine yellow jacket. “I do believe that it did play a part in my skin cancer.”
Florida is among 17 states, including Hawaii, considering laws this year that would restrict indoor tanning by minors. Proposals would ban teens from tanning salons or require them to get notes from parents or doctors.
After the Florida bill passed a Senate committee, Collier’s mother, Claire, who had signed the permission form that allowed her daughter to tan, said she hopes the full Legislature will approve it.
“Do you really realize that your daughter or son — after just a few times in the tanning bed — could have melanoma? I didn’t,” she said.
“I gotta tell you, you cannot regulate everything in this world,” said Florida Sen. Mike Bennett, a Republican who voted against the bill. “I suppose we could say the same thing and outlaw tanning on the beach.”
Possible tough sell
Persuading teens to stop tanning could be a hard sell. According to one study released in 2002, a quarter of those ages 15 to 18 had used indoor tanning in the past year.
Florida already requires parental approval before minors can use tanning salons. If the new law passes, it would be among the strictest in the nation. Only one state, Wisconsin, bans teens 16 and under from using tanning beds, though a handful of others — California, New York and New Jersey among them — ban the under-14 crowd. At least 29 states have some regulations governing tanning by minors.
Even more restrictive proposals in Texas and Vermont would prohibit anyone under 18 from using a tanning bed without a doctor’s note.
Texas state Rep. Burt Solomons, a Republican, says it makes sense to ban minors from tanning just like they’re prohibited from buying cigarettes because both are known carcinogens. And Democratic Vermont state Rep. Janet Ancel, who introduced her bill after having skin cancer herself, said just requiring parental consent isn’t good enough.
Many of the bills being debated in state legislatures this year were promoted by California-based Aim at Melanoma, which supports research and education on the most serious form of skin cancer.
Foundation spokeswoman Samantha Guild, whose sister died of skin cancer in 2003, says the group would like all states to require parental consent for anyone under 18 to use a tanning bed, a position shared by the World Health Organization and American Academy of Dermatology.
“We do not want minors to tan because you’re more susceptible to skin damage prior to the age of 18,” she said.
The bill’s main opponents have been salon owners and the Washington-based Indoor Tanning Association, which promotes the $5 billion industry in the U.S. and represents some 20,000 tanning salons.
Association executive director John Overstreet contends the beds are safe for minors and said most salons already require anyone under 18 to get parental permission.
Besides, he says, getting a tan indoors can be safer than burning on the beach.
“It’s a lot easier to get a sunburn when you’re outside. In a tanning salon you know exactly what you’re getting,” said Overstreet, who said he would allow his 16-year-old daughter and 17-year-old son to tan indoors.
High school senior Rosie McDavid was 14 when she started going to a Tallahassee tanning salon to get rid of the tan lines from her soccer uniform.
Her aunt — her legal guardian — wasn’t so sure, and McDavid had to work to convince her.
Now McDavid spends $29.99 a month for a tanning salon membership and goes once or twice a week, more if she has a special event like her senior picture. She doesn’t think lawmakers should ban salon tanning outright, maybe just set limits on the number of times teens can go a month.
“In a way I wish I didn’t start so young,” she said, but added that 90 percent of her friends now tan and it’s nice to get compliments on her own bronze skin. “They say ’Oh my gosh, you look so good.”’