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It's about time Maryland banned teen tanning beds

There’s plenty of science that links tanning beds and the ultraviolet light they emit to an increased risk of skin cancer. But when you’re 16 and looking for a way to get that summer glow, you don’t want to hear the latest research on why that might not be such a good idea.

Sometimes teenagers have to be saved from themselves, and after years of attempts, the Maryland General Assembly has come the closest ever to doing that when it comes to tanning beds.

Both Maryland’s Senate and House of Representatives have passed bills that would prohibit those under the age of 18 from using indoor tanning devices in the state. The chambers now need to sign onto each other’s bills before the measure goes to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk. We certainly hope that Gov. Hogan, a cancer survivor himself, understands the public health importance of supporting the legislation and signs the bill.

The ban is long overdue and years in the making. Unfortunately, state legislation has failed four previous times — in 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015 — thanks to a strong business lobby. (The tanning business is a multi-billion dollar industry nationally.) Some local jurisdictions — Prince George's, Montgomery, Charles and Howard Counties — have passed all-out bans, but the state still allowed minors to tan indoors as long as they had parental permission.

We don’t let minors smoke with parental permission, and we shouldn’t allow this either. Some teenagers are actually introduced to tanning by adults. Research published in 2017 in the journal JAMA Dermatology found that 44.5 percent of those who started tanning before age 16 reported that they did so with a family member, while 49.2 percent of those who started tanning with a family member did so with their mother.

Groups like The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network say a ban will reduce the risk of skin cancer, the most common cancer there is, and save lives.

The earlier a person starts tanning, the more at risk they are for developing skin cancer later in life. Using an indoor tanning device before the age of 35 increases the risk of melanoma by 59 percent, and women younger than 30 are six times more likely to develop melanoma if they tan indoors.

About 1,750 Marylanders are expected to be diagnosed with melonoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, in 2019, according to the American Cancer Society. About 110 are expected to die.

Young white women are the most likely to climb into a tanning bed because they think they look more attractive, and even healthier, with a little extra color. Many times they are also under the misconception that what they are doing is safer than laying out poolside in the sun. And that is definitely not the case.

The scientific evidence evidently isn’t reaching enough people. The most dangerous forms of ultralight violet light can alter DNA in skin cells and lead to cancer. Or too many people are playing the it-won’t-happen-to-me game and holding out hope that they will be the exception. Thirty-five percent of American adults, 59 percent of college students, and 17 percent of teens have reported using a tanning bed in their lifetime, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

Tanning beds are so problematic the American Academy of Pediatrics, U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other groups have sounded their alarm about their use by minors. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a goal to reduce the proportion of high school students who use tanning beds and other artificial sources of UV light for tanning to 14 percent by the year 2020.

Maryland can now play a stronger role in making that happen with an all-out ban on indoor tanning by minors. We need this legislation to prevent them from falling into the tanning bed trap.

For those who complain about too much government intervention, it is the responsibility of our health agencies to promote a healthy agenda. That is why there are age limits on smoking and drinking.

Some teenagers may whine about new restrictions, but there are plenty of ways these days to add some color to the skin — from spray tans to lotion with a hint of color in it.

While teenagers sometimes like to think they know everything, we know that is not the case. Sometimes they need a little push to do the right thing.

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