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Sunbed Industry Exposed
Region's health officials target tanning industry
London Free Press - May 27, 2002 - Page A-1
Dave Dauphinee - Health Editor
London and Middlesex health officials plan their own assault on the so-called "fake-bake industry" in the absence of provincial or federal laws to regulate suntan facilities.
The action is in response to information provided by The Free Press from an interview with a local skin doctor who slams as "child abuse" the lack of strict controls on city tanning parlours, one of which admits taking clients as young as eight years old.
"(Child abuse) occurs when parents unwittingly take their kids to get ready for Grade 8 graduation or for the prom," says Terry Polevoy.
Polevoy, who has clinics in London and Kitchener, said he was angered when a 14-year-old female patient taking acne drugs got a tanning membership at Kokomo's at Wellington and Commissioners roads.
The anti-sunbed crusader wants to ban people under the age of 18 from salons. He posted his outrage on his Healthwatcher Web site and issued an appeal for more stories.
"The main problem is (some tan parlours) are giving wrong information to clients they are trying to recruit -- including children who are under age -- by telling them they are safe," Polevoy said.
Danger was compounded by use of an antibiotic that makes skin susceptible to sunburn. Burns are linked to melanoma, a potentially fatal skin cancer.
Polevoy's revelation "shocked" public health nurse Kaylene McKinnon, who chairs the Middlesex-London sun/UV committee.
"I am shocked to know this and it makes me think we need to do much more education about the health effects of ultraviolet radiation," she said.
"I don't think people have enough information."
A new three-pronged initiative will include a blitz of area travel agents later this year "about the myth of tanning prior to going south," McKinnon said.
One U.S. study found 51 per cent of high-school-aged girls used a commercial tanning bed within the past year.
Beginning this fall, health unit officials will seek out post-secondary students, targeting those in courses such as esthetics, skin care, sports, tourism, leisure and recreation.
The health unit has already campaigned for federal and provincial laws to more closely regulate the tanning industry, said McKinnon.
Her group disputes that any tanning -- artificial or natural -- is safe, because the darkening of melanin that browns the skin is a signal ultraviolet light is damaging the skin.
London does not regulate client age or activities of the city's 52 artificial tanning parlours. The chief controls are to ensure the radiation-emitting beds work properly and warning signs are posted.
The federal government recommends no minor use a tanning bed and warns adults to "be aware of the hazards."
The Middlesex-London Health Unit says artificial tanning is unsafe.
"When we learned about the health effects of tobacco, we were sort of at the same point we are now (with ultraviolet light)," said McKinnon. "We are seeing increases in skin cancer rates every year."
McKinnon disputes claims a base tan protects those heading south. A tanned Caucasian has a sun protection factor (SPF) of two to four, compared to the recommended sunscreen SPF of 15. "It's a myth, it's misleading."
London dermatologist Denise Wexler, who wants Ottawa or Queen's Park to regulate the industry, said, "Tanning beds are not healthy or safe for anyone. To take (a child) to get a tan -- no."
Even the American Medical Association wants a ban.
A Dartmouth Medical School study this year said those using tanning devices were 2.5 times more likely to get squamous cell cancer and 1.5 times more likely to get basal cell cancer. Risk increased based on when a person began using them.
Brigitte Coulombe, owner of Kokomo's, said parents often bring children for a tan before heading south.
"I've had families come in where there's five children between the ages of 16 and eight years old and the mother will sign the sheets for them and so I will make one of the parents go in with the child," she said. "Tanning is OK for you, moderation is the most important thing."
But one Canadian blue-ribbon committee disagrees. "Exposure to solar and artificial ultraviolet radiation is widely recognized as an important, and preventable, cause of skin cancer," said the federal-provincial radiation protection committee.
Cancer development can depend on exposure to UV and 80 per cent of lifetime exposure can occur before age 18.
Kokomo's won't tan anyone under 14 unless a parent supervises, said Coulombe.
Customers must complete a form that states abnormal skin sensitivity can occur when using certain drugs, cosmetics or foods, she said. "If you drink too much, it is bad for you, if you smoke too much, it is bad for you. "I would never advise somebody to come in here every day."
Skin cancer is the most common cancer with 76,000 new cases every year. Southwestern Ontario has the highest rate of skin cancer in Ontario.
* Eyes: Painful temporary injury. UVA speeds aging such as lens browning. UVB partly responsible for cataracts. * Skin: UV causes aging such as wrinkling, hardening and skin cancers. Squamous and basal cell cancers are most common. Melanoma less common but more deadly, tied to sunburns. Source: Health Canada
* Eyes: Painful temporary injury. UVA speeds aging such as lens browning. UVB partly responsible for cataracts.
* Skin: UV causes aging such as wrinkling, hardening and skin cancers. Squamous and basal cell cancers are most common. Melanoma less common but more deadly, tied to sunburns.
Source: Health Canada