Indoor tanning: Not as sunny as depicted, Congress' Democrats say
The criticism follows an investigation in which Democratic staff of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, including college interns, phoned salons representing themselves as teenage girls considering purchasing tanning sessions for the first time.
Committee Democrats, led by Rep. Henry A. Waxman of Los Angeles, said calls to 300 salons nationwide and a review of advertising found that the vast majority provided "false information about the serious risks of indoor tanning and made specious claims about the health benefits that indoor tanning provides."
The report comes as indoor tanning is facing greater scrutiny from lawmakers in state capitols and in Washington.
California recently became the first state to ban anyone younger than 18 from using indoor tanning beds. In Congress, lawmakers are pushing for the Food and Drug Administration to strengthen its regulation of the industry.
"Health risks are not being accurately relayed, while health benefits are being falsely claimed," Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member of the energy and commerce subcommittee on health, said in a statement. "Plain and simple, this is a public health issue that deserves the attention of our committee."
John Overstreet, executive director of the Indoor Tanning Assn. in Washington, said in an interview that most salons, by law or through business practices, seek parental consent for customers under age 18.
"If those who were conducting the survey had actually visited a professional tanning salon and were indeed under 18, they and their parents would have had a more thorough conversation about the tanning process and the potential risks of over exposure,’’ the trade group also said in a statement.
Overstreet said the report was prepared by industry critics.
"Getting a suntan can be a very enjoyable and pleasant experience. It doesn’t have to be a problem," he added. He warned that banning anyone under age 18 from tanning salons isn’t going to stop them from seeking tans but rather create a situation "where there is no supervision."
According to the Democrats’ report, nearly all salons contacted by investigators "denied the known risks of indoor tanning.''
"Salons used many approaches to downplay the health risks of indoor tanning," the report says. During their calls, committee investigators representing themselves as fair-skinned teenage girls were told that ... “it’s got to be safe, or else they wouldn’t let us do it.”
"Tanning salons fail to follow FDA recommendations on tanning frequency. The Food and Drug Administration recommends that indoor tanning be limited to no more than three visits in the first week. Despite this recommendation, three quarters of tanning salons reported that they would permit first-time customers to tan daily."
-- Richard Simon in Washington
Photo: Tanning salons are drawing scrutiny across the nation. Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times