Bill may restrict tanning for teens

March 18, 2009 10:24:32 AM PDT
A bill that would make it harder for Texas teens to use tanning beds is now pending in the House public health committee. Supporters of the bill have compared its importance to the law which makes it illegal for teens to buy cigarettes.[SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

That bill is getting a strong reaction at M.D. Anderson, where doctors tell Eyewitness News they see patients who are literally dying from their tanning bed habits

A bill being discussed in Austin would strengthen existing laws governing the beds' use by teens, requiring anyone under 18 to get a doctor's note and have a parent in the tanning salon.

Current state law requires parental permission slips for children under 18 and a doctor's permission for children under 13.

M.D. Anderson pediatric oncologist Dr. Dennis Hughes says keeping kids away from tanning beds is a potentially life-saving idea.

"I can't imagine a good reason a teenager needs to be in a tanning bed. The truth is there isn't a good benefit and there is lots of potential harm, for teenagers using tanning beds," said Dr. Hughes.

Dr. Hughes treats patients with all kinds of skin cancers and says those cancers, including malignant melanoma, the most deadly form of the disease, are almost always linked to childhood exposure to cancer-causing rays, whether they come from the sun or from a tanning bed.

"Most people get 80 percent or more of their sun exposure by their 18th birthday. So if we can limit the sun exposure in the teen years, we have a great ability to prevent future skin cancers," said Dr. Hughes.

Local tanning salon manager Ted Unseth says his company is just fine with tougher laws governing teens and tanning.

"We're not advocates for teenagers to UV tanning. We believe that there are other avenues like hydrating your skin, doing UV Free tanning is a better option," he said.

At his Houston salons, UV free tanning -- better known as spray tanning -- is very popular and doctors say it is the only safe tan.

One other word of wisdom from M.D. Anderson regarding skin cancer is to check for suspicious moles and get to a doctor early if you see something suspicious because as with other cancers early detection is the key to surviving skin cancer.

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