MADISON, Wis. — Children of all ages would be barred from using tanning beds in Wisconsin under a bill moving through the state Legislature.
Indoor tanning is popular among high school students, especially in the days leading up to spring break and dances such as prom and homecoming. Wisconsin law already prohibits anyone under 16 from using tanning beds. Sen Fred Risser’s proposal would extend that prohibition to all minors. The Madison Democrat, a former U.S. Navy medic who spearheaded legislation creating a statewide smoking ban, said minors don’t understand that tanning could lead to skin cancer later in life.
“Society has an obligation to assist minors,” Risser said. “Skin cancer is a very serious problem. Young people don’t realize what they do has lifetime implications.”
The bill has already stirred up opposition from the tanning industry. John Overstreet, executive director of the Indoor Tanning Association, which represents tanning bed manufacturers and salons, said the prohibition would hurt salons’ bottom lines. He said fears of cancer are exaggerated and parents should be allowed to decide whether their children can use a tanning bed.
“This is a slippery slope when the government starts telling parents whether or not their teenagers can get a sun tan,” Overstreet said. “You are much, much more likely to sunburn at the pool or the beach. People feel good when they propose this stuff, but in reality it really doesn’t accomplish what they’re trying to accomplish.”
According to a 2011 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey, 21 percent of high school girls and 32 percent of girls in 12th grade use indoor tanning facilities. But the CDC note that indoor tanning exposes users to ultraviolet rays that damage the skin and can lead to cancer. People who begin indoor tanning during adolescence or early adulthood face a greater risk of developing melanoma, according to the CDC.
Eleven states, including California, Minnesota and Texas, plus the District of Columbia have barred all minors from using tanning beds, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Lawmakers in two dozen other states have introduced bills this year that would ban all minors as well, according to NCSL.
Under current Wisconsin law, a salon that allows a customer younger than 16 to use a tanning bed can face forfeitures ranging from $50 to $250 and lose its state permit. Under Risser’s bill, those penalties would extend to salons that allow anyone younger than 18 to tan. That means 16- and 17-year-olds who can now tan legally would be barred.
Jane Gannigan, manager of two Hawaiian Tanning Studios in Stevens Point and Wisconsin Rapids, said the bill could hurt her bottom line and further damage indoor tanning’s image.
She said her salons urge customers to tan in moderation and parents, not the government, should decide if their children can tan indoors. Many teens tan to prepare for trips to warmer, sunnier regions or to treat acne and psoriasis, she said.
“It has the potential to impact the business,” Gannigan said. “I think if we trust the adults a little bit more and not just say, ‘oh, no, you can’t’ ... there’s got to be a little more leeway there.”
Krystal Tysdal, a 19-year sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said she doesn’t see any problems with barring minors from tanning as she was leaving a tanning session at Sun Tan City on campus. She didn’t start tanning until she was 18 because her parents wouldn’t allow it, she said.
“(The bill) doesn’t bug me at all,” she said. “Spray tanning is always an option. Or you can go outside, too. Do both.”
Spokeswomen for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald didn’t immediately respond to an email inquiring about the bill’s chances. The proposal faces long odds since Republicans control both chambers. Risser introduced an identical bill late last session but it went nowhere.