It should not be left to municipalities to ban tanning salons from serving children, as the town of Oakville, Ont., is doing. Given the large body of empirical evidence linking indoor tanning beds to an increased risk of skin cancer, provincial governments that have not done so should take action.
Nova Scotia has already prohibited those under the age of 18 from using the salons; Quebec, British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador have recently introduced similar legislation. In Ontario, a New Democratic MPP has introduced a private member’s bill along the same lines, but the government has not yet signed on.
The World Health Organization classifies tanning beds as a human carcinogen. Ultraviolet rays from them can be five times stronger than the midday summer sun, dramatically increasing the risk of melanoma, which is one of the most common and deadliest forms of cancer for those aged 15 to 29. Risk increases with use.
If adults want to knowingly increase their risk of skin cancer, they should be free to do so. Children and teenagers, on the other hand, are entitled to be protected from the damage to their health.
Health Canada offers only guidelines on the subject – warning of the beds’ dangers, but allowing the industry to self-regulate where provinces haven’t intervened. For its part, the association representing tanning salons in Canada promotes a policy of getting parental consent for minors who want to tan.
That policy is not consistently enforced, and even if it were, it would be insufficient.
It is hard to fathom why any parent would consciously expose their child to an activity with potentially deadly consequences, and only the most marginal and superficial of benefits. But just as provincial laws do not permit teenagers to drink and smoke in Canada, so too should they protect children and teens from their own high-risk behaviours in the use of tanning beds.