Ontario has passed a law that will ban people under the age of 18 from using tanning beds, a measure aimed at cutting rates of skin cancer in the province.
The new rules will also force tanning salons to prominently post government-created posters that explain the risks of tanning to customers.
"It is important legislation for us in Ontario today," Health Minister Deb Matthews said Wednesday after the legislature unanimously endorsed the law at third reading. "Of course, a national solution would be preferable – I think that's what the industry would prefer – but my job is to make sure the people of Ontario are protected."
The legislation took a full five years to come to a final vote. A tanning bed bill was first introduced in 2008 by former Liberal MPP Khalil Ramal. Then, New Democrat health critic France Gélinas took up the cause. It was not until last fall that the Liberal government signed on to the effort and adopted the bill as its own.
The law was held up yet again because of procedural fighting between the three parties that ground parliament to a halt.
Asked to explain the lengthy delay, Ms. Matthews said: "It was a private members bill, and as you know there's a lot of legislation that starts out as a private member's legislation, and the support for it builds."
Cancer survivors and their advocates cheered the new law.
Kate Neale, a former tanning-salon employee who was diagnosed with melanoma after using a tanning bed three times a week for several years, said the new rules will ensure people do not have to endure what she did.
"I know it's going to save lives. I wouldn't wish this experience on my worst enemy, especially somebody young," said Ms. Neale, 23. "Knowing it will save lives means the world to me."
She said salons actively encourage underage Ontarians to tan, with advertisements that promote getting tans before prom.
Joanne Di Nardo senior manager of public issues at the Canadian Cancer Society, said some people begin tanning as children or teens – often because their parents bring them in – and then end up with cancer later on.
"The effects that indoor tanning has [on a] young person, their skin and cancer actually is cumulative over time. So one would be more at risk in the future if they expose themselves to indoor tanning and UV light now," she said. "It's very important to stop it in its tracks now."
Several jurisdictions have imposed restrictions on tanning salons, including Quebec and Nova Scotia. Brazil has banned tanning beds entirely.
Annette Cyr of the Melanoma Network of Canada said a federal law stopping under-18s from tanning would be a good idea.
"If that's within their parameters, I would certainly welcome that," she said.
Ms. Gélinas, meanwhile, accused the government of only agreeing to the legislative change as a way of distracting from the costly cancellations of gas-fired power plants, referring to e-mails between Liberal staffers last year that suggested the tanning bed ban would be a good way for the Grits to get positive media coverage in the midst of anger over the plants.
"For more than five years, health-care advocates, youth, public health units, physicians, and cancer survivors have worked alongside me and other MPPs to urge the Liberal government to prevent youth from accessing dangerous tanning beds. Today, we have finally achieved this important step for preventing skin cancer," Ms. Gélinas said in a statement.
"Today is a day for celebration but it is disheartening that it took a scandal like the gas plants to motivate this government to do something for the health of young people in our province."