I recently posted on the new law in California that bans indoor tanning for those under 14, and prohibits 14-18 year old minors from using tanning beds without their parent's permission. A few additional thoughts.
First, the purpose of my post isn't to advocate the use of tanning beds.
Second, I'm not arguing that there aren't risks to certain types of UV over-exposure, whether in a tanning bed or in the sun. There most certainly are. These risks, particularly for fair-skinned people, seem to include non-melanoma skin cancer (more common forms of skin cancer, though less deadly), melanoma (less common, more deadly), wrinkles (deadly to some, apparently), and other types of skin damage.
Third, the typical experience in a typical tanning bed does not replicate the experience of being in the sun. Tanning beds tend to go heavy on UVA, which doesn't stimulate the production of Vitamin D, and with higher intensity levels than most people would typically experience (particularly away from the equator). Plus, people in tanning salons are exposed to an extremely high intensity, but low quality auditory waves, also known as shitty pop music.
Fourth, the indoor tanning industry is a lot like their core clientele: pretty ditzy. I've asked various salons for the UV spectrum and intensity emitted by their machines and bulbs, but none of them seem to know. This is the most informed response I've heard: "These machines are more UVB, but you'll get redder in them, so use these more expensive ones that are UVA."
Fifth, I accept that minors shouldn't be allowed to engage in certain types of dangerous activities that adults are allowed to engage in. Smoking cigarettes is addictive, and so on.
So I accept all that. Those aren't my issues. My issue is the growing tendency to try to legislate healthy behavior.
I have both moral and pragmatic issues with this. Morally, I'll concede that I have a higher threshold for when the government is justified in stepping in -- I think individuals should have enormous discretion over decisions in their own lives. But I'll put that aside for the moment to speak to pragmatic-minded people who are in favor of technocratic legislation of health decisions. How does this process actually work in practice?
I called up the office of State Senator Ted Lieu to ask for the scientific references they are basing their decision on, and the cost-benefit analysis. I was directed to a press release for the legislation (plus prior press releases on the topic). At least I wasn't put on hold, and the response was quick and courteous.
The press release includes three links to one website: indoortanningreportcard.com, a site which opposes indoor tanning and supports legislation to restrict it, as well as a link to this short overview on radiation as a carcinogen. No link to a cost-benefit analysis.
On the Indoor Tanning Report Card site, there are a few links to various papers, but get this. They ran their own study and this was their top finding:
"Tanning salons located in states with youth access laws were more likely to require the teen to obtain parental consent to tan. However, youth access law (presence vs. absence) did NOT relate to whether teens had actually used indoor tanning. This may be because many parents are providing their consent."
Their top finding was that parental consent laws don't actually work. Apparently, California didn't get the memo. I found this astounding -- the main conclusion of the advocacy group is that the very type of law passed by California doesn't work. (They advocate a total ban for minors.)
What about a cost-benefit analysis? Still nowhere to be found. Would it be so hard to make a single spreadsheet that has the following, with citations?
- # of minors who visit tanning salons
- increased risk of cancer based on visits as a minor (low, medium, high estimates)
- prevalence of those types of cancer
- severity of those types of cancer
- medical benefits of tanning bed use (any vitamin D?, complexion)
- compare with likely alternative: minors giving themselves sunburns on beaches or staying out of the sun entirely
- consider the social cost of having to look at more people with spray tans
- cost to enforce the legislation
- see how this compares with other activities we would never consider banning, like swimming, bike riding, watching TV, getting a driver's license at 16, and trick-or-treating on Halloween
If I'm going to be governed by a technocracy, then I at least expect there should be a one-page cost-benefit analysis of every single law and regulation that comes out of our government. This probably won't have a big impact on the big stuff, which people will just disagree on, but it will have an impact on all this little stuff that abounds. If you can't even do a cost-benefit analysis, then perhaps technocracy only works in theory.
When it comes to the science, I don't have time or space to adjudicate the debate in this post. But here are other potential risk factors that this legislation ignores or won't address:
- Does the use of traditional sunscreens increase the risk of skin cancer? Traditional sunscreens only block a portion of the UV spectrum and disassociate the signal of damage (a burn) from actual damage that is still happening.
- A society that rarely gets sun anymore, and then when we do get sun, it's way more than our body is prepared to handle
- General indifference to the long-term consequences of sun burns
- Diets and medications that make our skin more sensitive to the sun
- A base level of skin cancer inherent to certain skin types, even if people were never actually exposed to the sun or tanning beds
- Why do many melanomas appear on parts of the body that are usually not exposed to the sun?
- Whether regular, moderate exposure to the sun reduces the incidence of skin cancer
If the scientific community is still in disagreement about some of these issues -- and what constitutes a healthy relationship with the sun -- why would we ever expect our political system to arrive at good outcomes?
In and of itself, a law that bans tanning for those under 14 and requires parental permission for minor 14-18 isn't the end of freedom in America. But it represents an increasingly aggressive mindset that is eager to micro-manage people's behavior, including banning fatty foods and salt.