The Baltimore County Council will consider a measure tonight that would ban minors from tanning facilities and assess penalties on those who violate the law.

The bill before the seven-member panel would require that minors under the age of 18 use tanning devices only with a written prescription from a physician, who specifies the nature of the condition that requires treatment, and the number of visits and time of exposure for each use.

Councilman Vincent Gardina, who drafted the bill, said the ban is an effective way to reduce teens' exposure to ultraviolet rays, which have been linked to skin cancer. At the council work session Tuesday, he read into the record numerous statistics on "the precipitous rise in skin cancer." Several health officials supported the ban.

"Overexposure to sun and increased use of tanning beds are direct links to skin cancer," said Dr. Gregory W. Branch, county health officer. "This is the same as the increased chance of lung cancer from cigarettes. This legislation is clearly a health benefit to constituents. It sends a message about how big a health risk this is."

Teens' growing patronage of tanning facilities prompted the state legislature to enact a law this year that requires parental permission for those younger than 18. But Gardina said he wanted more stringent restrictions. Baltimore County's bill comes on the heels of a step taken last week by the Howard County Board of Health, which passed a regulation requiring a doctor's prescription for a teenagers to use tanning facilities.

"Just because a parent gives permission does not mean this is right," Gardina said. "By making it illegal for minors, we are making clear that this is a major health risk."

The bill would impose a $500 fine or 90 days' incarceration on violators.

Council Chairman Joseph Bartenfelder said he wants to study the Howard ban before making a decision on the local bill. A few council colleagues said the state ban is sufficient and appear opposed to the added restriction. Others said they are reviewing both sides of the argument.

"The General Assembly determined by passage of its law that there is indeed a health risk with tanning," said Councilman Kevin Kamenetz. "That should not be part of the local debate. But it and Howard County's ban are having an impact on my thought process."

Lobbyists for the tanning industry as well as owners and employees of local salons packed the work session and promoted the safety and benefits of tanning devices.

"If properly used, tanning beds are safer for teens than being in the sun," said Manny Karos, president of Allied Quality Services, which sells and services tanning equipment.

Krystal Seibert, 22, a technician at Palm Beach Tanning in Glen Burnie, sported a near-perfect bronze skin tone and remained in the audience through nearly 90 minutes of debate. She said none of the dire statistics frightened her.

"I have been tanning since I was 15, and I don't believe it's bad for you," she said. "I like to tan in a controlled environment and not out in the sun."

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