Tanning Bed Ban for Minors: New Jersey Law Limits Teens’ Melanoma Risk

Tanning bed woman
A tanning bed ban for minors is now in place in New Jersey; indoor tanning is associated with a higher risk for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Creative Commons

A tanning bed ban for minors is now in place in New Jersey; Governor Chris Christie signed the bill yesterday in the aftermath of the state's notorious "Tan Mom" scandal, in which disturbingly tan local woman Patricia Krentcil was arrested for exposing her 5-year-old daughter to ultraviolet ray damage in a tanning booth last spring.

"Governmental regulation of the private sector should always be carefully scrutinized, and sparingly adopted," said Gov. Christie in an official statement, before admitting that statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) convinced him that a tanning bed ban for minors could lower their risk for skin cancer later in life.

New Jersey already imposed a tanning bed ban for minors under the age of 14, and required parental consent for those under the age of 18. The new regulation raises the minimum tanning bed age to 17, and the minimum spray tanning age to 14. Minors aged 17 and older require the presence of a parent or guardian for an initial consultation at a tanning salon. The law will go into effect on October 1, 2013.

"The new restrictions imposed by this bill followed a single but breathlessly reported incident of a parent bringing a minor child into a tanning facility," said Christie.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, with over 2 million Americans diagnosed each year. Though the most common types are easily treatable, the third most common kind, melanoma, is often deadly.

According to the CDC, up to 90 percent of melanomas are caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light radiation, which come from the sun, tanning beds, and sunlamps. UV rays increase skin cells' production of melanin, a skin-darkening pigment. Tanning beds may be particularly dangerous for minors, since people who start tanning before age 35 have a 75 percent higher melanoma risk.

The 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System reported that 13 percent of all high school students, and 21 percent of all high school girls, reported indoor tanning. The statistics say that indoor tanners tend to be non-Hispanic white women aged 18 to 21. In its Healthy People 2020 national public health program, the CDC hopes to drastically reduce the proportion of teenagers who use indoor tanning beds by 2020 in order to reduce skin cancer risk.

Public health advocates applaud New Jersey's tanning bed ban for minors:

"The American Academy of Dermatology Association is proud to have supported this legislation and commends the state of New Jersey for joining the fight against melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, and non-melanoma skin cancers," said Dr. Dirk M. Elston, president of the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD), in a statement.

"Through national media coverage and reality television, attention has been drawn to the use of indoor tanning devices in New Jersey. This legislation highlights an important step in changing unhealthy behaviors and sends a strong message from the state that tanning is a dangerous behavior and should be avoided."

Tanning bed bans for minors are already in place in California and Vermont, and a similar bill is now being considered in Connecticut. Internationally, such bans exist in Brazil, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, several Australian states, and several Canadian provinces.

The AAD warns that over 2,520 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in 2013 in New Jersey alone, and that one in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime.

You can learn how to perform a skin cancer self-exam at the SPOT Skin Cancer website.

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