Renewed efforts are under way across Canada to make that golden glow – the artificial one at least – a thing of the past for young people.
A federal private member’s bill tabled by Conservative MP James Bezan is making its way through the House of Commons, which if passed, would outlaw indoor tanning for those under 18 and mandate new warning labels at salons across the country.
Last year, Nova Scotia became the first province to ban indoor tanning for anyone under 19. Some provinces have voluntary guidelines, but health care groups are ramping up the pressure in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia to introduce full-fledged tanning bed vetoes.
“Indoor tanning is a problem behaviour,” said Cheryl Currie, a public health professor at the University of Lethbridge. “The reason we’re very alarmed is that all across developed countries, skin cancer rates are rising.”
She is part of a coalition in Alberta called Indoor Tanning is Out that is lobbying for a ban.
In 2009, the World Health Organization declared artificial ultraviolet rays a human carcinogen, and lumped exposure together with hazards such as asbestos, arsenic and tobacco.
The Canadian Dermatology Association has gone so far as to call tanning the “cigarette of today.”
Physicians are reporting increased cases of melanoma, the most dire form of skin cancer, which kills three Canadians each day. In Ontario, the incidence has more than tripled in the past three decades, according to health-care groups. And the disease, which was generally seen in the middle-aged and elderly, is turning up in greater numbers in young people. Melanoma has become one of the most common cancers among those aged 15 to 29.
Erin Welsh was diagnosed with melanoma shortly before Christmas in 2010. She was 27, but had been tanning since she was 18. The Edmonton sales manager is now cancer-free, but she endured rounds of chemotherapy and surgery, and lives in fear that the disease will return.
“I live everyday regretting my choice to use a tanning bed,” she said in a statement.
According to the WHO’s analysis, exposure to tanning equipment before the age of 35 hikes cancer risk by 75 per cent.
Steven Gilroy, executive director of the Joint Canadian Tanning Association, which represents about 70 per cent of the 3,500 tanning salons in the country, argues that the war on tanning is based on misinformation.
He pointed out that the WHO analysis also found that there’s a much higher risk of skin cancer among home tanning and medical unit users than those who visit a salon.
Mr. Gilroy said members of his association require parental consent for users under the age of 18 and some salons require parents to attend sessions for those under 16.
“We’re hoping that the government will understand that they should let the parent make that decision,” he said.
Prof. Currie isn’t swayed by that argument.
“We don’t allow parental consent to buy cigarettes or to smoke,” she said, “UV indoor tanning is in the same category as tobacco.”