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Commentary & Opinion

Blair Horner: Weak Regulations Fail To Protect Children

One year ago, Governor Cuomo signed a law prohibiting the use of indoor tanning facilities by minors under the age of 17.  The reason that this restriction became law was the mounting evidence that indoor tanning is dangerous – particularly to young people.  The more you indoor tan, the more likely you will get skin cancer.

Indoor tanning causes skin cancer as well as immune suppression, eye damage, and premature aging of the skin.  The World Health Organization has elevated tanning beds to the highest cancer risk category - group 1 – “carcinogenic to humans.”  Subsequent research by the nation’s top medical facilities, including Harvard Medical School the Yale School of Public Health, has reinforced that finding. 

And skin cancer is a growing problem.  In New York, an estimated 4,200 people will be diagnosed with melanoma and 470 will die from the disease this year.  Tens of thousands more residents will be diagnosed with basal or squamous cell carcinomas of the skin.  UV radiation exposure, particularly from indoor tanning, is a leading risk factor for the development of these cancers.

Despite this mounting evidence and the fact that the law was signed one year ago, last week the Department of Health finally issued its draft regulations to implement the law.

Not only were the draft regulations issued one year after the governor approved the legislation, but the draft regulations do virtually nothing to boost state oversight of this dangerous product.

Until last year, New York State prohibited the use of indoor tanning facilities for those under the age of 14.  In addition, the previous law granted the Department of Health the authority to require the posting of a warning sign in indoor tanning facilities as well as requiring that parents sign an approval form that allowed their 14, 15, 16 and 17 year olds to indoor tan.

The new law, signed last year, raised the minimum age to 17, so parents will still be required to sign a waiver allowing their 17 year-old child to indoor tan and the facility will still be required to post a warning sign so that all users know the possible risks.

After one year of deliberations, the Health Department merely changed their regulations to match the new age requirement, it did nothing to strengthen the warning sign, and it did nothing to strengthen the parental consent form.  The Department proposed no new changes to the language of those forms despite the mounting evidence of the dangers of indoor tanning.

Just a few weeks ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed to reclassify tanning devices to address safety concerns associated with indoor tanning.  Yet, the New York Health Department proposed no such measures.

The Department’s regulations are just proposals; there is still a public comment period.  So there is hope that the Department will modify its plans to better protect the public health.  Here are a few steps that the Department should take:

First, parental consent forms, disclosure forms and any other informational pamphlets required by the Department of Health to be read and/or signed before using tanning devices should be updated to more accurately reflect the risks involved in using artificial tanning devices.  The current health warning, for example, makes no mention of the cancer risk of indoor tanning.  The Health Department must add language that makes it clear that indoor tanning increases the risk of skin cancer, including melanoma.

The glaring weakness in the new law is that it allows 17 year old minors to continue to use indoor tanning facilities, with parental consent.  Thus, the Department’s final regulations must ensure that parents are well aware of the danger facing their children, particularly the cancer risks of allowing their child to use indoor tanning booths or beds.

The Health Department’s weak proposed regulations can be fixed.  Here’s hoping that it does so.  For many, the Department’s final decision can have a dramatic impact on the public’s health.

Blair Horner is the Vice President for Advocacy for the American Cancer Society, Eastern Division. His commentary does not necessarily reflect the views of the American Cancer Society.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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