EDITORIAL: Colorado lawmakers must darken tanning beds for teens

Despite years of trying, Colorado has been unable to react to the sound and consistent advice of researchers around the globe and prevent teenagers and even pre-teens from using cancer-causing UV tanning beds

If your teen is looking pretty tan this winter and hasn’t been outside to account for it, your son or daughter doesn’t live in states like Texas, North Carolina and Louisiana.

Those states, despite being bastions of places that shun government regulation in general, have sense enough to ban minors from using tanning beds.

Colorado is among the declining number of states that don’t have that good sense.

Despite years of trying, Colorado has been unable to react to the sound and consistent advice of researchers around the globe and prevent teenagers and even pre-teens from using cancer-causing UV tanning beds.

While it’s unclear whether a determined House will carry a bill this year that could save untold illness and lives, someone needs to step forward.

For years, reasonable Colorado state lawmakers have tried to make it illegal to allow teenagers inside cancer-causing tanning beds. Each year, the measures move along, simply because the facts are daunting and indisputable. Tanning beds cause deadly cancers and lead to preventable American deaths.

The World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the American Cancer Association, organizations focusing on pediatrics, melanoma, skin cancer and other wellness groups are united in their message to Americans: Do not let teenagers use tanning beds because they cause skin cancer and death. The message has been consistent, unrelenting and in front of the public for more than a decade.

So how is it after all this time Colorado remains one of the few states without any laws regulating the use of tanning beds by minors? It’s primarily because the tanning bed industry is made up mostly of mom-and-pop businesses, which many state lawmakers are sympathetic to no matter what kind of business they’re in. More importantly, national tanning associations bend and distort data, presenting information to state lawmakers unable to keep the facts straight.

Tanning bed proponents say things like their products are safe when used as directed. Cancer, pediatrician and public health officials are adamant: They are not safe under any conditions, not for anyone — and especially not for minors whose skin is more susceptible to cancer-causing damage by UV rays. Proponents say indoor tanning is beneficial because it stimulates the body’s natural ability to produce essential Vitamin D. That’s like saying mercury-laden fish is healthful because it provides important omega-3 fatty acids. Both statements are true. Both things can and do kill humans.

The closest parallel to any other industry is tobacco. New tanning beds are being marketed as the filtered “light” cigarettes of the past, and they are successful in getting children to indulge in a lethal habit driven only by vanity.

In the United States, 2.5 million teenagers use tanning booths, many starting as early as age 13. In Colorado, that’s legal even though these children are exposed to booths that emit up to 15 times more UV radiation than the sun.

A Yale University School of Public Health study reveals that teenagers who use tanning beds have a 69 percent increased chance of getting early onset basal cell carcinoma, a common form of skin cancer. Melanoma, the most deadly skin cancer, is the leading cause of cancer death in women ages 25 to 29, and it’s the second most common cancer among people ages 15 to 29. People who use tanning beds once a month before the age of 35 increase their melanoma risk by 75 percent. Melanoma, according to CDC research, kills an average of one person every minute, and the rate is increasing fast.

The threat is real and indisputable. Colorado and other governments have acted consistently in protecting minors from health threats by limiting their access to tobacco, drugs, pornography, cars, machinery and alcohol. Given that there is no reputable evidence showing indoor tanning to be any less dangerous than those hazards, and it is exponentially more dangerous than most of those risks, how can the Colorado Legislature do anything but follow suit and restrict the use of tanning beds for teens?

State lawmakers shouldn’t let the sun go down on a winning attempt to right this regulatory wrong.