Tanning decision a fine balance

Some 17-year-olds may seem to be blessed with common sense and good judgment.

Some 17-year-olds may seem to be blessed with common sense and good judgment.

But the fact is, teens are not adults and most lack experience with real-world health issues such as skin cancer to make logical decisions on whether to frequent tanning beds.

It’s up to adults to keep children safe, a point agreed upon last week by 18 of 19 members of the Capital Regional District board, who voted to ban children under 18 from using the tanning beds in Greater Victoria.

Vancouver Island Health Authority’s chief medical health officer Dr. Richard Stanwick argues excessive sun exposure is proven to increase the risk of skin cancer. It’s not so much the risk of tanning once or twice, but the cumulative risk over a lifetime. Health authorities are only starting to see the impact now of tanning beds introduced in the 1980s.

The industry argues, and like Stanwick, has data to back it up, that the actual increased risk of using tanning beds is miniscule compared to the number of people who develop melanomas not associated with tanning beds.

The age group in question makes up just one per cent of the client base of tanning salons. The decision banning the activity for under-18s, will no doubt impact tanning-bed use by adults. It also may well affect the livelihood of the nearly 30 tanning businesses region-wide that provide such services.

The lone “no” vote from the CRD board, Metchosin Mayor John Ranns, argued the ban should apply to people younger than 16, to at least have some consistency with other laws that regulate youth behaviour. Does it make sense for teens to drive at 16, drink at 19 but not be able to tan at 17?

The board evidently thought so. Ranns also pointed out this is the first time the CRD has sought to regulate a specific activity of a small number of people — an activity that doesn’t harm others, unlike smoking.

The issue can could be seen as government overreach, but on the balance, at least it’s likely a few lives will be saved.