Kathy Barnard was just 15 when she and her sister picked up a do-it-yourself tanning light from a local department store in Powell River, B.C., brought it home and baked under it for more than an hour.
By the time she was finished, Ms. Barnard was severely burned but still hooked on getting tanned. The obsession with tanning lasted until just before she was diagnosed with cancer a decade ago.
“I was a huge sun worshipper – if I wasn't outside doing sports, I was lying in the sun, and then I reverted to a tanning salon in the winter,” Ms. Barnard, 57, said on Tuesday as the British Columbia government pledged to ban children and teens from tanning beds.
“Nobody talked about skin cancer,” she said. “It was the cancer of older people.”
British Columbia plans to introduce regulations in the fall that will make it illegal for people under 18 to use indoor tanning equipment, joining the province of Nova Scotia and the city of Victoria, which passed a bylaw against the practice last year.
B.C. is also considering recommendations to require training and licensing for tanning salon operators and have them display cancer warning labels.
Ms. Barnard was diagnosed with melanoma in 2003 and has survived several relapses.
“When we’re under 18, we think we're invincible,” said Ms. Barnard, who lives in Vancouver and runs the Save Your Skin Foundation. “We could save another life here.”
Last year, the B.C. government struck a working group to examine possible regulations for the tanning industry.
The group included representatives of the medical community, B.C. municipalities and the tanning industry. The only participant not to endorse a total ban on youth tanning was the Joint Canadian Tanning Association, an industry group that recommended parental consent.
Health Minister Mike de Jong said the risk of cancer associated with tanning is too great to allow children to use the devices.
“We believe the evidence warrants this step,” Mr. de Jong said. “We believe that every time we take action collectively and individually, it represents a benefit to families, to individuals and to society as a whole, which bears the brunt of the costs associated with treating those cancers.”
Mr. De Jong said teens can obtain a prescription when UV light is required for medical reasons, such as to treat psoriasis.
The working group report cites research by the World Health Organization, which classifies UV from tanning beds as a proven carcinogen. The WHO says the risk of melanoma increases by 75 per cent when artificial tanning begins before the age of 35.
Advocates such as the Canadian Cancer Society have been calling on governments to ban young people from using tanning beds, but progress has been slow.
Nova Scotia became the first province to institute an outright ban for people under 19 last year.
Other provinces, such as New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, have introduced voluntarily guidelines that say young people shouldn’t use tanning beds.
Minors are banned from tanning salons in Australia and in some parts of the United States and Europe.
Steven Gilroy of the Joint Canadian Tanning Association insisted the risks are exaggerated.
He said that when tanning beds are properly maintained and operated, the risk is dramatically reduced. The danger is cut even further, Mr. Gilroy said, when people at greater risk, such as those with fairer skin, are removed from the WHO statistics.
He said a better approach would be to regulate the industry to ensure that tanning beds are operated by trained staff, exposure limits are placed on young people and people with higher-risk skin conditions are banned.
“If you have good controls in, you reduce risk,” Mr. Gilroy said from Kelowna, B.C. “We have been advocating for full professional standards. Nobody wants to do this. They just want to ban it and be done with it.”
In the working group’s report, the medical participants, including the B.C. Cancer Agency and the Canadian Dermatology Association, reject Mr. Gilroy’s use of the statistics.
They noted that cancer risk is associated with lifetime exposure to UV radiation, which tanning beds increase, and that the true impact of tanning beds, which are relatively new, may still be years away.
The report argues that the cosmetic benefits of indoor tanning do not outweigh the health risks.