B.C. Health minister Michael de Jong bans teens from tanning

Provincewide ban began with Oak Bay students

University of Victoria students and former Oak Bay High graduates Stephanie Wong

Oak Bay High students have stood out for passionately opposing tanning beds, but it won’t be long before they’re in the same boat as teens across B.C.

The Ministry of Health announced a provincewide ban on tanning bed use by people under the age of 18 – a change directly linked to the tan-free movement that began in Oak Bay.

Stephanie Wong and Adele Green, co-founders of the school’s Youth Against Cancer club, were “ecstatic” to hear Health Minister Michael de Jong’s announcement Tuesday morning.

“When the minister said they were actually going to restrict the use (of commercial tanning beds) for youth under the age of 18, we were shocked that the minister had made a decision so early, but not that he actually made the restriction,” said Wong, now a second-year student at the University of Victoria, leading a Youth Against Cancer club on campus with Green. “It just goes to show the direct link between skin cancer and tanning beds.”

Wong and Green were among the first to bring the issue of banning commercial tanning bed use in the Capital Regional District before the CRD board of directors in 2010. The board followed recommendations from Vancouver Island Health Authority chief medical health officer Richard Stanwick and supported a bylaw to ban tanning bed use by young people in January 2011.

Skin cancer remains the most common type of cancer in Canada. The B.C. Cancer Agency estimates that 966 British Columbians will be diagnosed with cancer in 2012 and 150 will die of it. In 2004, the total direct and indirect economic cost of skin cancer in Canada was estimated at $532 million.

“This is going to spark a generational change, which is ultimately what Adele and I have been working toward,” Wong said. “This shows you don’t have to change the way your skin looks in order to live up to the portrait of beauty. … People and youth should feel comfortable in the skin that they’re living in and shouldn’t have to feel pressured to go and use these beds that would cause them to get skin cancer.”

Wong’s younger sister Jessica, a current student at Oak Bay High, has continued with her sister’s work by recently promoting a Canadian Cancer Society tan-free grad challenge at the school.

Tuesday’s announcement follows the release of a report by an indoor tanning working group that was established as a direct result of the CRD ban.

The proposed regulation under the Public Health Act does not apply to people under the age of 18 who have a medical prescription. It is anticipated to take effect this fall.