A recent ban on underage tanning in British Columbia is sparking conversation locally and receiving mixed reactions.
An outright ban was announced by the B.C. government on March 20, prohibiting anyone under the age of 18 from using an indoor tanning bed — an effort to prevent the development of skin cancer later in life.
The Canadian Skin Cancer Foundation (CSCF) supports the ban of underage tanning and Leona Yez, executive director, said she would like to see a similar ban implemented in Alberta.
“We’re thrilled that B.C. has this ban in place and we’re hoping that it will become a real movement across the country,” she said, adding there is a provincial coalition working to enact similar legislation in Alberta.
This coalition is called Indoor Tanning is Out and includes health experts from the CSCF, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Dermatology Association and various other organizations.
“The fact is that using a tanning bed increases your risk of melanoma. If you use one before the age of 35, it increases by 75 per cent,” she said. “We really recommend that youth under the age of 18 don’t use tanning beds at all. We recommend no one use tanning beds, but getting that legislated would be a no-go.”
St. Albert’s Gillian Mihova, program committee coordinator with the CSCF, lost her husband, Jeremy Richardson, on Nov. 5, 2005 to skin cancer. She has been active in spreading awareness of skin cancer ever since his diagnosis and said she thinks a similar ban should be implemented in Alberta.
“I am very supportive of a ban like this and in fact, Alberta Health Services and the Canadian Skin Cancer Foundation are working on a ban such as that,” she said. “It’s long overdue.”
Richardson was an elite athlete who was halted from pursuing a hockey scholarship when he was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in the summer of 2003. After many treatments and surgeries, Richardson succumbed to the disease, but not before leaving a lasting legacy with family and friends.
Mihova and her sister, Jennifer Rauw, founded the Sun Safe School Education Program in 2004 to raise awareness of skin cancer for school-aged children. The program was picked up by the CSCF in 2006 and used ever since.
“We’re targeting children because they’re the most at-risk for skin cancer,” she said. “They should know the risks because they are real and they can die.”
She said people of all ages should be happy with the natural colour of their skin.
“It is so important to educate the public about the negative consequences of sun exposure,” Rauw said.
Last year, roughly 120 classrooms in the greater Edmonton area went through the program, which focuses on risks associated with tanning beds, prevention and early detection.
George Radford, owner of Island Tanning in St. Albert, said he would not oppose the legislation if it was implemented in Alberta because his salon has always required individuals under the age of 18 to have parental consent, while children 12 and under must be accompanied by a parent.
“I wouldn’t argue with it. I think it’s a good thing, personally,” he said, adding it wouldn’t have much of a financial impact on his business. “Some people abuse themselves because they love tanning in the winter and that’s not a good thing to do … we don’t encourage anyone to over-tan.”
Radford said his only concern would be for burn-prone minors who are looking to get a base tan prior to heading to a tropical destination. He said this is often a preventative measure taken to avoid burns, which are more detrimental than tans.
The CSCF has supported movements to prevent youth from using indoor tanning facilities in Alberta, B.C., Ontario and Quebec — all four provinces have the highest rate of melanoma, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.
The society’s annual report on cancer statistics for 2009 said: “There is growing evidence that exposure to ultraviolet radiation through the use of tanning beds and sunlamps may increase skin cancer risk, including malignant melanoma, especially if exposure begins in adolescence or young adulthood.”
The society reported roughly 5,500 new cases of melanoma in 2011 with 950 deaths from the disease.
The underage tanning ban in B.C. makes it the second province in Canada to have such legislation. Nova Scotia instituted a similar ban at the end of 2010, prohibiting anyone under 19 years of age from tanning in indoor beds.