Mashpee Health Board Looks At Banning Tanning For Minors

Tanning may soon be for adults only in Mashpee.

No one spoke against the Mashpee Board of Health’s proposed regulation of tanning businesses in town during a public hearing on Wednesday evening, at the same time the board discussed strengthening the new rules to ban anyone under the age of 18 from using tanning beds.

The board received heartfelt support from two families with experience with melanoma, a sometimes deadly type of skin cancer to which indoor tanners are subject to increased risk.

The owner of one of the four businesses with tanning beds in Mashpee also spoke. Sunsational Tanning of Mashpee owner Amy Maio said she already does not take customers younger than 15 and requires parental permission for customers under 18.

“There were no regulations in town, but I did set my own, because I have morals,” she said.

Ms. Maio questioned the board’s proposed requirement

The board did not vote on the proposal on Wednesday, opting instead to take it up at a future meeting to decide whether to change the regulation or approve it.

Absent from the hearing was any testimony that the board’s proposed regulations, either requiring parental permission for some teenagers or restricting access to only those 18 or older, would harm local businesses.

Ms. Maio said approximately 10 percent of her clientele is between 15 and 17, the ages for which she already requires parental permission. But she suggested she could work with the new regulation by steering those customers toward spray tanning products, which dermatologists believe are less harmful than ultraviolet tanning beds.

According to information from the US Food and Drug Administration distributed by the board of health at the meeting, indoor tanners are 75 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never tanned indoors. Cancer risks are particularly high for teenagers and young adults exposed to tanning machines, which can emit ultraviolet radiation levels up to 15 times higher than that of the midday sun.

Ms. Maio’s comments capped an approximately 45-minute hearing that was decidedly in favor of restricting teenagers’ access to tanning facilities.

The hearing opened with a presentation from Deirdre Arvidson, a public health nurse with Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment, who said she travels to Cape Cod high schools to talk to teenagers about the dangers of tanning.

About 60 percent of the 105 students Ms. Arvidson has spoken to in an informal survey at five Cape high schools, have used tanning beds. A quarter of them use a tanning bed more than once per week.

Driving the use of tanning beds is a perception among teenage girls that being tan is more attractive, she said.

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“I think that, my opinion of what you’re doing here, I think it is really valid. I think that because they are teenagers they are not going to regulate themselves,” she said. “The only way to regulate it is the law…Being able to do that as a town would really set a great example for the rest of the Cape. And I think if you do it, you are going to see the rest of the towns take a look.”

A sense of the need for a more regional or even statewide regulation, to prevent teens from simply driving one town over to avoid Mashpee’s rules, pervaded the hearing.

Shy of a statewide regulation, Lucy B. Burton, board of health member, said Bourne and Barnstable have also reported being interested in rules similar to Mashpee’s.

“If we take this step, I just think it would be so great for us to lead the charge on this and have the other towns follow,” she said.
Colleen and Robert Kohl of Marstons Mills said they have already been working with the state Legislature to pass a bill similar to Mashpee’s proposed regulation for the entire state. It has gotten some traction in the Senate but less so in the House, Ms. Kohl said.

Their advocacy is driven by their experience with their daughter, Glenna Kohl, who developed stage three melanoma in 2005 after spending her teenage and young adult years going to tanning booths regularly. Glenna, who was also a lifeguard for the Town of Barnstable, died in 2008.

The Kohls said that after her diagnosis, Glenna advocated for more information and education about the risks of tanning and sun exposure. Since her death, they have carried on her work, Ms. Kohl said.

Mr. Kohl said that, as a fisherman and a business owner, he can relate to working in heavily regulated industries. “But I don’t see why this should be an issue. If they need young kids to survive, to me that is just disgusting,” he said.

Brandi Tobias of East Sandwich said that as a teenager she was an avid customer of tanning booths, going as often as four or five times a week. Now in her late 20s, she was diagnosed with stage one melanoma last year.

She said her parents asked her not to go tanning, but she paid for it with her own money earned at a job, had her own car, and so was able to go as often as she wanted to anyway.

She said she strongly supports the board’s regulation, as well as efforts to bring more education about the dangers of tanning to high school students.

After Ms. Tobias, the board asked whether anyone would like to speak against the regulation. No one came forward from the audience of about a dozen people.

Ms. Maio, the salon owner, said she would like to speak neither for nor against it. She did take issue with one element of the proposed regulation: requiring, in addition to parental permission for clients between ages 15 and 17, a doctor’s note stating that he or she has informed the parents of the risks associated with the exposure to UV radiation.

Ms. Maio said she does not believe such a step is necessary. For example, she said, minors can get tattoos with parental permission but without a doctor’s note.

“Tattoos don’t cause cancer,” Ms. Burton replied.

In addition to Sunsational Tanning, the three other businesses with tanning machines in Mashpee are New Dawn Tanning Salon on Route 28 at Trinity Place, The Fitness Company for Women on Route 130, and Work Out World on Route 28, according to Mashpee Health Agent Glen Harrington.

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