Wednesday, March 18, 2009

AUSTIN, TEXAS (AP) - A proposal that would make it harder for Texas teenagers to enter the tanning bed was compared to legislation against Big Tobacco as lawmakers took up the issue.

“In the United states and Texas, we don’t allow our teens to purchase cigarettes until after they are 18 because it is a carcinogen,” said Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton. “Yet we don’t do that for tanning beds, which can expose teens to the same risk for cancer.”

The bill would require anyone under 18 years old to get a doctor’s note before using a tanning bed and would require a parent be with them in the salon. Supporters and detractors said this would be the strictest legislation any state has passed on teen tanning.

Current Texas law requires parent permission slips for children up to 18 and that adults go with their children if they are under 16. Children under 13 can also tan if they get permission from a doctor.

In testimony to the board Tuesday, one of the state’s largest tanning salons said current oversight is strong enough, and that parents should decide whether their child can use a tanning bed.

“This should not be a state issue, a doctor’s issue _ it’s a parental issue. I have a right to decide what is right or wrong for my daughter,” said Diane Lucas, president of Texas-based Palm Beach Tan. She was also representing the Indoor Tanning Association.

Lucas said there are 75 Palm Beach Tans in Texas employing more than 500 Texans. Though she said the average age of their clients is 32, the loss of business from restricting teen access would hurt small businesses in a tough economy.

Dermatologists and melanoma survivors argued that tanning beds are a proven risk for skin cancer including melanoma, and teens are at particularly high risk for such damage.

“Epidemiological studies have now shown that even one exposure to tanning beds before the age of 35 can increase your risk for melanoma,” said Sharon Raimer, a dermatologist and president of the Texas Dermatological Society. Raimer said she favors the bill.

UV light treatments similar to tanning beds are used to treat some skin conditions, but Raimer said she would prefer those be treated in a controlled, medical environment.

Both sides acknowledged that a doctor’s note would be difficult to get if the bill passed.

The bill was left pending in the House Public Health Committee.

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