by Shelby Huffman
Today I applaud the government of Saskatchewan for joining the rest of Canada’s provinces in banning the use of tanning beds by people under the age of 18. Banning tanning bed use by minors is rapidly gaining support around the world- a number of US states, European countries, and every Australian state implemented bans from the late 2000s onward (2). This decision is particularly worthy of celebration given findings by the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency that indicate residents of Saskatchewan are more likely than other Canadians to engage in pretty much every behavior that increases skin cancer risk: spending more time in the sun, not wearing or reapplying sunscreen, seeking and keeping suntans, getting sunburns, and using artificial tanning equipment (2).
Raising awareness about the risks of exposure isn’t enough, because people who use tanning beds tend to be more aware of the risks than those who don’t (4). Why focus on the tanning beds when the sun can also cause skin cancer? Because it’s feasible, it has overwhelming public support in the province and everybody else is already doing it. Yes, people under 18 can still tan in the sun and yes, they will continue to do so. The government can’t do much to change whether young people think tans are attractive, but if it can make it harder for them to risk their lives to achieve this look it should.
The risks of tanning beds are serious, and the IARC classifies them as a Group 1 carcinogen (5), the same group as cigarettes, alcohol, and asbestos. Tanning also has addictive properties, and has been called a “possible psychiatric disorder with carcinogenic consequences”(4). These are good enough reasons to outweigh concerns about limiting services to people; restricting the access of young people to a Group 1 carcinogen when possible is not only not unheard of (alcohol, tobacco), it’s the only reasonable course of action.
Now that the government has agreed to do its part, the best solution to the tanning bed problem would be to change beauty standard to be inclusive of all skin tones. This isn’t the government’s job so a good start would be to stop telling other people they need a tan. From personal experience, this is annoying. On the other end of the spectrum I’ve also heard it said that pale is the new tan- pale is not to the new tan because we don’t need a “new tan”. The “new tan” is whatever skin colour you were born with, and accepting this message can go a long way toward preventing skin cancer.
4. Kourosh, A., Harrington, C., & Adinoff, B. (2010). Tanning as behavioural addiction. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 36, 284-290. DOI: 10.3109/00952990.2010.491883