Health Care

Banned in Kansas, kids can still use Missouri’s tanning salons. Will that change?

Avoid tanning beds to prevent skin cancer

Richard W. Joseph, a medical oncologist, and Anokhi Jambusaria, a dermatologist, both from Mayo Clinic in Florida, talk about why one should never use tanning beds.
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Richard W. Joseph, a medical oncologist, and Anokhi Jambusaria, a dermatologist, both from Mayo Clinic in Florida, talk about why one should never use tanning beds.

A friend from Overland Park was telling Amy Holdman recently about driving her daughter across the state line to go to a tanning salon, because Kansas bans anyone under 18 from those businesses.

The friend had apparently forgotten that Holdman, a skin cancer survivor, had testified for the Kansas law.

“I was like, are you kidding me? You’re telling ME this story,” Holdman said with a laugh.

If the American Cancer Society and survivors like Holdman have their way, teens soon won’t be able to just cross the state line to tan.

Missouri legislators are considering two bills like the one Kansas passed in 2016 that would ban anyone under 18 from using commercial tanning beds.

Supporters say it’s a public health issue, with research linking tanning to skin cancer and the Food and Drug Administration recommending kids not use tanning beds that emit ultraviolet, or UV, rays.

“Every year, more than 6,000 cases of melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer – can be directly tied to indoor tanning,” said Emily Kalmer, Missouri government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

The cancer society’s political action arm has been lobbying for such bans for years. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, about 30 states have passed them, though their minimum age requirements range from 14 to 18.

A ban has been introduced before in Missouri going back at least five years and never passed. One of this year’s bills has advanced out of committee but still has several more hurdles to climb in a legislative session that is almost over.

As in years past, the tanning salon industry is strongly opposing the legislation.

Joe Levy, a former journalist who is now scientific adviser to the American Suntanning Association, said Missouri’s current regulations, which require a parent’s permission for people under 18 to tan, are sufficient.

“We believe this should be a parent’s right to decide and we’ve always supported parental consent, signed in person in a salon, for those who want to use a sunbed in a salon under 18,” Levy said. “We think that works very well.”

Levy said the industry has gotten a bad rap and actually provides a place for teens to tan responsibly, under the supervision of technicians trained to use tanning beds.

Take that away and it will just drive them to use in-home tanning beds or tan outside, putting them at greater risk for skin cancer, he said.

“The user is setting it themselves, and it’s much more likely to produce a sunburn,” Levy said.

The Missouri bill that advanced was introduced by Rep. Nick Schroer, a Republican from the St. Louis area who on other issues has described himself as “a true believer in the free market.”

He didn’t respond to a request for an interview.

The Kansas ban was spearheaded by a conservative Republican cut from a similar cloth: Rep. Dan Hawkins from Wichita, who is now the Kansas House majority leader.

Hawkins said that when the ban was first proposed in his state he “was totally against it just from a free market standpoint.”

But after hearing from people like Holdman, who had tanned heavily as a kid and later faced multiple bouts with skin cancer, he changed his mind and became one of the bill’s most important supporters.

“That was one that moved me just because I got to know people that were fighting with it in their current life because of what they had done before,” Hawkins said.

Several years into the Kansas ban he said he had no regrets about pushing for it.

Spray tans (which carry some health risks if inhaled, but no UV risks) are a fine alternative for anyone looking to be bronzed for prom or pool season, he said, and he hopes Missouri will follow Kansas’ lead.

“I think it’s a good thing they’re considering it,” Hawkins said, “and, heck, if any of them want to talk to me I’ll tell them why I did it and why I think it was the right thing to do. I really think with the damage it does to young kids’ skin and the problems it can cause later on, it’s just not worth it.”

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Kansas City Star health reporter Andy Marso was part of a Pulitzer Prize-finalist team at The Star and previously won state and regional awards at the Topeka Capital-Journal and Kansas Health Institute News Service. He has written two books, including one about his near-fatal bout with meningitis.