Tanning industry asks for voluntary limits for minors, not law

Hoping to head off another legislative effort to ban minors from indoor tanning, the owners of nearly 100 salons have pledged to follow self-imposed restrictions on young people using their sunbeds.

Under the new protocol, which salon owners pledged to begin following Jan. 1, people under 16 would only be allowed to tan at a salon with a referral from a doctor. Sixteen and 17-year-olds would still be allowed to use the sunbeds, but would need written consent from a parent or guardian, who would have to accompany the teen the first time.

David Boomer, a lobbyist for the salon owners, said the industry wants to prove that it can regulate itself. “Give them a year to show that this works,” he said.

That idea doesn’t sit well with Nancy Alderman, president of Environment and Human Health and a proponent of banning minors from indoor tanning.

“Do we voluntarily do speed limits? Do we voluntarily ask minors not to buy liquor? Do we voluntarily ask them not to buy cigarettes?” she asked Thursday. “We protect minors. We protect children. And we really need them protected from this.”

A proposal last year to ban minors from using tanning salons drew support from the American Cancer Society, the Connecticut chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Connecticut Association of Directors of Health, the Connecticut State Medical Society and the Connecticut Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery Society.

The president of the dermatology society, Dr. Philip Kerr, testified at the time that nationally, 8.5 percent of 14-year-old girls use indoor tanning facilities and nearly 27 percent of 17-year-old girls do. He said the industry targets teenage girls in its ads. And he said research suggests that tanning among young women likely explains a recent rise in melanoma among young women in the U.S.

The bill did not make it out of committee.

Tom Kelleher, who owns 14 Tommy’s Tanning salons in the state, said Thursday that his facilities already require parental permission for minors. He said minors represent less than 1 percent of his business.

“There’s a huge misperception. People think tanning, spring break,” he said. “And there is a surge then, but it’s way more male than it used to be, it’s way older than it used to be.”

People are sent to tanning salons by doctors because of skin conditions, autoimmune diseases and seasonal affective disorder, he said.

Kelleher said the effort to ban minors from tanning stems from a goal of putting tanning salons out of business.

“What we’re trying to do is operate responsibly like we always have, and cooperatively,” he said. “We have no problem with legislation. We have a problem with nonexistence.”