From Tracy R. O’Neil, a pediatric nurse practitioner in Charlotte and a Doctor of Nursing Practice student at Duke University:
One April while visiting my parents at their Sunset Beach home, I ran into friends from Charlotte. I was covered in sunscreen and enjoying an early run on the beach to Bird Island. As we caught up on family news, the conversation turned to their teenage daughter’s high school prom.
They asked for my advice as a pediatric nurse practitioner on whether to permit their 17-year-old daughter to indoor tan for her prom. I shared the following facts: 1) In 2009 the World Health Organization’s International Agency on Cancer Research declared Ultraviolet (UV) light from tanning beds a human carcinogen; 2) The evidence is compelling from case-controlled studies that those who indoor tan have a 75 percent greater risk of developing melanoma; and 3) Melanoma is the second most common form of cancer for people ages 15-29.
I got my friends’ full attention while sharing the story of Brittany Leitz of Maryland. Like their own daughter, Brittany had the perfect prom date, dress, shoes and earrings. Unfortunately, she felt a “golden tan” was a must-have accessory for her fair complexion and white prom dress. So she joined friends at a tanning salon in Annapolis. Soon, that single prom trip turned into a 20-minute a day obsession. Going against her mom’s warnings, she continued to frequent indoor salons – four times a week for three years. Then a bleeding mole on her back turned out to be melanoma, Stage II.
Brittany had to take time away from her studies at the University of Maryland and as a Washington Redskins cheerleader to undergo surgery and treatment. The surgery left her with a seven-inch scar and the removal of seven lymph nodes under her arm. Just a year later, Brittany won the title of Miss Maryland 2006. Part of her motivation was to bring more awareness to skin cancer prevention.
Twenty year-olds are not supposed to be diagnosed with melanoma. A tan is neither healthy nor safe. North Carolina has approximately 1,322 indoor tanning businesses. Seventy-six percent of N.C. teens live within two miles of a tanning business.
Now, legislators have introduced a bill to protect them. Yes, indoor tanning legislation may cause job loss in the industry. However, the sequela of melanoma carries a far greater risk. Current N.C. law prohibits those 13 years of age or younger from using tanning equipment without a physician’s written prescription. Youth between 14 and 17 years of age can indoor tan with only written parental permission.
Craig Burkhart, a pediatric dermatologist and president of the N.C. Dermatology Association notes, “Further legislation could save lives. It would help educate young people that indoor tanning is not safe.” We do not tell 17-year-olds that they can smoke tobacco or drink alcohol with a note from their parents. We should not tell 17-year-olds that they can indoor tan with a note from their parents.
Every hour in the United States someone dies of melanoma. North Carolina spent more than $100 million on melanoma treatment over the past three years. The legislature should pass House Bill 18, which would raise the legal age for indoor tanning without a prescription from 14 to 18. An indoor “golden tan” is not just an accessory to high school proms. It is a deadly public health risk.
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