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Victoria bans teenagers from tanning beds

A woman using a tanning bed.

Globe files/Globe files

Greater Victoria has become the first region in B.C. and only the third in Canada to ban the use of tanning beds by teenagers.

After a 4 ½-hour meeting on Wednesday in which they heard more than three dozen presentations from members of the public, anti-cancer groups and industry representatives, Capital Regional District directors voted in favour of restricting the use of tanning bed to people 18 and older. Only one director was opposed.

"This is something that will probably be repeated across the country. Other agencies are watching this very closely," said Richard Stanwick, Chief Medical Health Officer for the Vancouver Island Health Authority.

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"In the last few weeks, I've had discussions with [Vancouver Chief Medical Health Officer]Patricia Daly and [Toronto Chief Medical Health Officer] David McKeown."

The Greater Victoria bylaw will apply to all youth under the age of 18, even if they have permission from their parents.

Two Canadian provinces have banned teen tanning – New Brunswick, which took action in 1992, and Nova Scotia, which passed a tanning ban law in December that will apply to people under the age of 19.

David McLean, head of prevention programs with the BC Cancer Agency, pointed out that the World Health Organization considers UVA rays, the kind emitted from tanning beds, a Class 1 carcinogen, just like tobacco and asbestos.

"UVA is not safe," Dr. McLean said. "This is why dermatologists refer to tanning salons as 'wrinkle parlours.' "

Industry representatives who spoke on Wednesday urged CRD directors to delay the bylaw, saying it fails to address key regulatory issues such as mandated certification of tanning technicians, restrictions on tanning for people with at-risk skin types and mandatory record-keeping for all customers.

However, Mr. Stanwick said the bylaw is strictly a public health issue, and neither VIHA nor the CRD has the authority to regulate the way tanning salons do business.

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Some opponents of the bylaw have complained about the loss of parental authority, but Mr. Stanwick said the tanning ban is no different than laws against teenage drinking and smoking, which cannot be superseded by family consent.

Salon operators acknowledge the need for tighter regulations, but reject claims that tanning beds cause cancer and that the industry is unsafe.

Angie Woodhead, co-owner of two Cabana Tan outlets in Victoria, complained the VIHA and CRD officials have ignored the industry's calls for tighter regulations, saying ethical salon operators have "been demonized by a few who do not operate according to standards."

Greater Victoria has about 40 licensed tanning salons.

Bonnie Leadbeater, a researcher with the University of Victoria, said about one-third of the estimated 27,000 girls under 18 in Greater Victoria have reported using tanning salons.

Peer pressure among girls, who are far more likely to use tanning beds, would be eliminated by a ban, Dr. Leadbeater said.

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The law proposes fines of $250 to $2,000 for salon owners and/or teenaged customers who break the law. However, Dr. Leadbeater said other jurisdictions with similar laws have experienced a high rate of voluntary compliance.

"Fines would be a last resort," she said.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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