- Associated Press - Thursday, September 24, 2015

BOSTON (AP) - The Massachusetts Senate on Thursday unanimously passed a bill that would bar anyone under age 18 from using tanning beds.

Supporters of the bill - including dermatologists who treat patients with skin cancer - point to what they say is a sharp rise in the number of young people diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Doctors believe the rise is linked to the increased use of sunbeds since they first became popular in the 1970s.

Salon owners say tanning beds are safe if used responsibly in professional settings.

Massachusetts law currently allows 14- to 17-year-olds to visit tanning salons with written consent from a parent or legal guardian. Children under 14 can only use a tanning bed if accompanied by a parent or guardian.

During a public hearing in July, Dr. Jennifer Lin of Boston’s Dana Farber Cancer Institute said the institute sees 10 to 20 new cases of melanoma each week, a number that corresponds with the 65,000 new cases nationwide and 9,000 deaths each year, resulting in $1.6 billion in health care costs.

She said tanning beds emit ultraviolet rays 10 to 15 times stronger than the midday sun.

Owners of tanning bed facilities say the current law requiring parental consent is sufficient, arguing that the government shouldn’t take away a parent’s right and responsibilities when it comes to allowing their teens to use sunbeds.

They said the proposed law also could drive teens to unlicensed facilities.

Supporters, however, say many parents are unaware of the dangers of tanning.

The bill also would prohibit salons from letting employees under age 18 from operating sunbeds.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, New Hampshire, Vermont, eight other states and the District of Columbia ban indoor tanning for those under 18.

The bill now heads to the Massachusetts House.

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