Friday, April 30, 2010

Tanning Bed Services Are Eroding Public Trust

Trust is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as a “firm belief or confidence in the honesty, integrity, reliability, justice, etc. of another person or thing".

Gone are the days when we could count on our fellow American to consistently do the right thing when faced with a situation that could mean life or death for a person being threatened with physical violence, or maybe, the victim is just lying in the street breathing what would turn out to be their last breaths. Recent events in Seattle and New York are disturbing where public employees in Seattle stood by and watched while a person was severely beaten, and in New York, where a good Samaritan came to the assistance of a woman being mugged, only to be stabbed himself and left to die on the street while people walked by, looked at the victim with interest, and then continued on their merry way. There was even one onlooker who stopped, only to take a picture of this dying man, without calling for help or showing even the slight bit of compassion for the man bleeding to death.

Why then, do we need to be personally affected by a harmful situation or lose a loved one or maybe even a good friend before we stand up and take action? One of my favorite singer/songwriter’s is Bob Dylan and I think often about a verse from his song, “Blowin’ in the Wind”: “how many years must a man turn his head, and pretend that he just doesn’t see?” This verse only seems to become more relevant with time.

We are faced with convincing evidence that suntan beds present a significant risk to the health of its users, but profit concerns for owners/operators drive their response, not the many young girls that have died or are dying of malignant melanoma cancer. Why is this happening? When I had a brief discussion with one of our local health club managers about the safety of their tanning bed services, her reaction was focused on the impact to their profits, not the safety of the Club’s members.

The evidence about the deadly affect on young girls has snowballed over the past year. Last year, The World Health Organization moved tanning beds to its highest cancer risk category – “carcinogenic to humans.”

Last month, the Food and Drug Association advisory committee recommended that people under 18 be barred from using tanning beds or at least have a signed consent form from their parents. In a March 2010 article, Allan Halpern, Skin Cancer Foundation vice-president and chief of dermatology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center was quoted as saying “The only purpose of a tanning salon is to give you a blast of carcinogen” and “Given our druthers,  we’d like to see no tanning beds out there.

The response from The Indoor Tanning Association – it “respectfully disagrees” with the FDA Panel Recommendations.  Wow! When all of the evidence is concluding that you are killing people and your are in panic mode focused only on keeping the cash flow machine flowing, what else can you say?

Even the Federal Trade Commission has joined the fray against tanning beds.  In January 2010, the FTC charged the Indoor Tanning Association with making false health and safety claims about indoor tanning. “Contrary to claims in the association’s advertising, indoor tanning increases the risk of squamous cell melanoma skin cancers according to the FTC complaint.”

The April 25, 2010 Parade Magazine referenced the Lancet Oncology 2010 report about tanning beds and the “consistent evidence of a link to melanoma of the eye and declared tanning beds to be “carcinogenic to humans.”

Recent legislation has made it more costly to “give you a blast of carcinogen”. A 10% federal tanning bed tax may make it more difficult for tanning bed salons to remain profitable. Hopefully the additional tanning costs will either discourage teenagers from indoor tanning services or reduce access to these services.

What might be the next shoe to fall against tanning bed operators? Besides national and state proposed legislation to regulate the use of tanning beds, law firms specializing in personal injury services are looking at this area for possible lawsuits.  The Farber Law Group in Seattle and Bellevue, Washington posted an article on their website about the dangers of tanning beds and noted that they represent people who have been seriously injured by dangerous products and have product liability cases.

So, how can I trust health clubs that offer services that may be killing teenagers? I have to admit that I previously trusted our local health clubs to only offer services that were consistent with helping members become healthier and fit. In addition, I believed that the health clubs would monitor their services and modify them as necessary to protect their membership. I now know how naïve I was and that trust should only be reserved for those in my carefully selected circle of family, friends and advisors. 

When lobbyists with significant conflicts of interest are able to compete more successfully than the combined medical experts noted previously who are expected to protect us from these types of health dangers, it comes down to you and I to balance the scales of fairness. I don’t know about you, but enough years have passed where I turned my head and pretended that I just didn’t see the harm being inflicted on so many young girls using suntan beds.

Will you join me in letting our elected officials know that we will support them in legislation that will restrict the use of tanning beds to those above the age of 18? I have found our representatives to be very receptive to proposed tanning bed legislation after they understand the dangers and the concentration of young girls affected by the dangers of tanning beds. Please help by sending e-mails, making phone calls, or discuss the issue personally with our elected officials. Also, please let the health club managers and owners know how you feel and ask them for yourself why they are not taking action to restrict the use of their tanning beds to those over the age of 18. I don’t know about you, but the time has ended for me to turn my head anymore.

Thank you!


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