The Canadian Cancer Society wants to make tanning beds an election issue in Ontario by urging politicians to create a ban that would prevent youths under 18 from using them.
Tanning beds have been classified as a human carcinogen by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer, but the industry continues to promote them to young people, said Joanne Di Nardo, senior manager of public issues for the Ontario division of the Canadian Cancer Society.
The society is hoping to rally voters and put the dangers of indoor tanning beds on their radar as the province heads into a fall election.
"I think it's important for Ontarians to know some of the things they should be looking to ask the political candidates. It's something political candidates should be paying attention to," Ms. Di Nardo said.
The cancer society is particularly concerned about young people because it says the industry actively targets them in promotions and marketing materials. For instance, many tanning salons suggest getting a tan for prom night. At a prom exhibition show in St. John's last year, at least two tanning salons were there to market themselves to teenagers.
A backlash against young people using indoor tanning beds has been building for several years, and some jurisdictions have already adopted restrictions.
Last month, new legislation came into effect in Nova Scotia barring people under age 19 from using indoor tanning beds. Salon owners can face fines of up to $10,000 and have their businesses closed for up to two years for repeated violations.
Earlier this year, Victoria became the first Canadian city to pass a bylaw preventing anyone under age 18 from using indoor tanning beds. The bylaw also requires customers who appear to be under age 25 to show identification.
The Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Dermatology Association and numerous other health experts have also been calling for restrictions on the use of tanning beds by young people.
In addition, students at several high schools across the country have pledged to go "tan-free" to their prom in response to growing concern over the health effects.
"We've seen growing momentum," Ms. Di Nardo said.
She pointed to a poll commissioned on behalf of the cancer society that found more than 80 per cent of Ontarians support restricting under-18s from using tanning beds.
Shelley Bresett hopes governments hear the appeals. Ms. Bresett and her three children lost husband and father Chris to malignant metastatic melanoma in 2006 after a lengthy illness.
He was a bodybuilder who began going to tanning salons three to four times a week in the late 1990s, when he was 34, to achieve the bronzed look common in that field. A few years later, doctors diagnosed him with terminal melanoma and told him the disease was likely brought on by his tanning-bed habit.
"It was horrible. Your whole life changes from the minute your loved one is diagnosed," said Ms. Bresett, who lives in Chatham, Ont. "The bottom line, it's just not worth the risk."
Steven Gilroy, executive director of the Joint Canadian Tanning Association, an industry organization, disputes the idea that all tanning beds are unsafe. He said research in the area has been flawed, and salons run by a trained professional are safe.
Mr. Gilroy added that a ban isn't a good idea, saying regulations should instead focus on parental education, warning signs and ensuring salon staff are well trained.
"If you're going to ban a controlled environment like indoor commercial tanning units, then why aren't you banning things like beaches?" he said. "What's next?"
Health Canada says there is no safe way to tan, and that while salon operators may insist their lights are safe, they may give off five times the UVA rays as the sun. UVA causes premature aging of the skin and is also linked to cancer.
At the same time, the Ontario branch of the cancer society is urging political candidates to pay attention to issues related to prescription drug access and environmental and occupational carcinogens.
Ms. Di Nardo said many cancer patients are forced to pay high costs for drugs not covered by public or private insurance plans. The society is urging the government to adopt a drug program that would cover the costs of all prescription drugs for cancer patients.
It also wants the government to create public lists of potentially toxic or carcinogenic substances and introduce warning labels to tell consumers which products contain those ingredients.