Skin deep: The quest to ban indoor tanning beds for minors

By Kurt Anthony Krug

Legal News

Anne Goulet, Dr. Kay Watnick, and Rep. Jim Townsend (D-Royal Oak) are crusading to ban minors from using indoor tanning beds, which medical experts state increases their chances of getting cancer.

Goulet, 22, of Dearborn, knows all about that.

A recent graduate of Central Michigan University, Goulet began using indoor tanning beds when she was 15, tanning 20 minutes almost every day for nearly three years when she was a student at Dearborn High School. Her first time using an indoor tanning bed was to achieve a "glow" for a homecoming dance. However, in August 2010, when Goulet was 19, she was diagnosed with melanoma, considered by the medical community to be the deadliest form of skin cancer.

She stated, without a doubt, her cancer was caused by using tanning beds. According to Goulet, she found the melanoma on her lower right abdomen.

"It was like a small mole, but it was discolored and looked like a scab. I had to have surgery to remove it. I caught it early enough so it wasn't that severe yet... I didn't have to go through chemo and radiation. I just had surgery (which was an out-patient procedure)," said Goulet, who has been cancer-free for nearly three years now.

In late March, Goulet joined Townsend and Watnick--Goulet's West Bloomfield-based dermatologist and a proponent of banning minors from using indoor tanning beds--at a press conference in Lansing, where they spoke about the dangers of indoor tanning beds.

Townsend proposed legislation--House Bills 4404 and 4405--which is patterned after the way Michigan prohibits stores from selling cigarettes to minors, to ban minors from using indoor tanning facilities.

"We cannot turn a blind eye while our daughters and sons, nieces and nephews, and friends are put at such a terrifying risk of cancer," said Townsend. "The (U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta), Michigan physicians, and cancer patients themselves have sounded the alarm about the deadly risks of indoor tanning. It is time we listen and put the lives of our young people first."

Townsend's bills are supported by the Michigan State Medical Society, the Michigan Dermatological Society, and the American Cancer Society Action Network. One bill would ban indoor tanning by minors and the other would create a registry of tanning salons. His legislation was subsequently referred to the House Committee on Regulatory Reform.

Currently, the law in Michigan allows minors access to indoor tanning facilities, but consent from a parent or a legal guardian is required. California and Vermont have banned minors from using indoor tanning beds. In April, New Jersey passed a law where minors are now prohibited from using commercial tanning beds and people under 14 are now banned from spray-tanning procedures in tanning facilities.

"Indoor tanning has been directly linked with a dramatically increased risk of skin cancer, especially for girls who start tanning at a young age," Dr. Watnick said. "Using a tanning bed is particularly dangerous for younger users. We have a responsibility to protect our children and we encourage lawmakers to pass these potentially life-saving reforms as soon as possible."

Besides melanoma, indoor tanning has been directly linked with squamous cell carcinoma and ocular melanoma, which is eye cancer. According to a report by the CDC, those who begin tanning indoors at a relatively young age have a 75 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with melanoma, which reportedly is the No. 1 killer of young women nationwide. Additionally, the CDC report stated that 13 percent of all high school students use indoor tanning beds, and as many as 32 percent of them are girls who are high school seniors.

"I don't think people realize how dangerous tanning beds are and what they do to your skin. I kind of knew they were bad, but I didn't realize how bad... I think if you just educate people more about truly how dangerous they are and what they can do to you, I think people will realize they need to be banned," said Goulet. "If I hadn't started tanning as a teen-ager, I likely never would have gotten cancer. I hope now that my story can help girls across the state understand the risks of indoor tanning. I hope the legislature will listen, too, and pass these bills soon to help save lives."

She continued: "I think it's unrealistic to get (indoor tanning beds) banned totally. But I think you could do it for people under 18.... I explained how I used to tan all the time, I'm working with (Watnick) about this to raise awareness and educate people about the dangers of indoor tanning."

Published: Wed, May 22, 2013