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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The Self Shelf: Turning the lights out on tanning

Tanning beds should be taxed

Published: April 23, 2010
Section: Opinions

Tanning beds have become a craze in the United States.  Young people everywhere are encapsulating themselves in tanning beds in order to improve their appearances.  The feasibility of using tanning beds to modify one’s body in order to feel better about one’s appearance is a controversial subject but not the one I intend to tackle here.  The physical harms of tanning are egregious enough to warrant government action.

In order to understand the harms of tanning, one can look to the nature of tanning itself.  It involves pumping ultraviolet radiation into the body in order to make the skin more tanned.  Ultraviolet radiation is not the best substance for your body.  It is known to cause skin cancer, cataracts, premature aging and suppression of the immune system.

There’s a reason you’re supposed to be careful of how long you stay in the sun (the other major source of UV radiation) or wear sun block.

Yet tanning beds deliver a concentrated dose of this harmful radiation for the purpose of bettering one’s appearance.  This is roughly the equivalent of getting an x-ray everyday to feel better about your health.  Additionally, your outer appearance will be the least of your problems when you develop melanoma before the age of thirty.

The danger from tanning beds is so high that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has added it to the list of carcinogenic products.  Tanning can drastically increase one’s chances of developing melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer.  The other substances in this category include such well known carcinogens as arsenic and cigarettes.

Arguments in favor of tanning beds purport that people don’t use them enough for them to be a carcinogen but the facts would beg to differ.  Skin cancer rates, especially in women younger than 30 are on the rise; melanoma is now the leading cause of death for women in their 30s in Britain (skin cancer rates are normally highest in septuagenarians).  This has all taken place as tanning bed usage has risen in the country.

Considering that awareness of the harms of the sun has led to wider sunscreen use, I would argue that this rise can only be attributed to the wider usage of tanning beds.

As if that weren’t enough, some studies have linked tanning with addiction related activities.  Thus, tanning could actually be classified as an addiction.  I would not go so far as to compare the addictive component of tanning with that of cigarettes, but I would certainly be comfortable arguing that it is indeed addictive.

Thus, what we have is a product which is possibly addictive, definitely carcinogenic and which has caused an increase in the skin cancer rates of young people in countries where it is widely practiced.  I fail to see any reason why this shouldn’t be regulated by the government in a similar manner to other eminently hazardous products.

The first regulation I believe the government should put upon tanning beds is an age requirement.  Currently, any person of any age can walk into or buy a tanning booth.  I believe that one should have to be 18 years old in order to use or purchase a tanning bed.

Minors are not deemed competent enough to make responsible decisions and are thus much more likely to use tanning beds without understanding the harms involved.  An analogous example is cigarettes.  The government cannot prohibit these harmful activities but they can at least prevent impressionable youths who cannot fully comprehend the consequences of their actions from taking part in them.

Additionally, the government should tax the sale of tanning beds in a similar manner to cigarettes in order to discourage them.  As they have been determined to be harmful and possibly addictive, I would argue that a punitive tax is merited.  It is basically Econ 101—the higher the tax on the product, the higher the price, and the less people will use it.

All in all, I think it is time that the government and the general populace took notice of this dangerous new product.  Otherwise it could be lights out for the youth of a generation.