Group Promotes Benefits of `Moderate' Sun Tan (2/24)

c.1997 Cox News Service

WASHINGTON -- The indoor tanning industry is about to launch a nationwidecampaign to convince Americans that ``moderate'' exposure to sunlight notonly isn't harmful, but could save 30,000 lives a year by reducing therisk of cancer.

And they're serious.

``We're trying to put perspective into something that has lost perspective,''said Joseph A. Levy, executive director of the International Smart TanNetwork, a Jackson, Mich.-based group that represents 27,000 indoor tanningfacilities throughout North America.

``People don't realize there may be risks in avoiding the sun,'' headds.

Not surprisingly, the group's claims fly in the face of nearly unanimousopposition from the medical community. The latter warns that there is noproof that exposure to the sun can prevent cancer, and there are mountainsof research indicating a strong relationship between exposure to the sun's-- and tanning salons' -- ultraviolet rays and skin cancer.

To carry their ``sun-is-good'' message to the public, the tanning industryis focusing on journalists, particularly health reporters.

Last month, the Smart Tan Network began running the first of six monthlyadvertisements in ``Editor & Publisher,'' a weekly journalism tradepublication. It also began issuing press releases on the Public RelationsNewswire. And that will be followed up this spring with an informationkit ``to every health reporter that we know of in North America,'' Levysaid.

Levy declined to disclose the cost of the campaign, but said it wouldpale in comparison to what the pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies spendin advertising sunscreens and related products.

``We'll probably spend less than a full-page ad in ``Cosmopolitan''which is about $50,000,'' Levy said. ``The beauty magazines run about 20pages of cosmetic or sunscreen ads that relate to UV (ultraviolet) damagean issue.

``It's a big business -- fear of the sun,'' he adds with a hint of sarcasm.

Although the Smart Tan Network is composed of indoor tanning companies,their message primarily deals with exposure to natural sunlight. Levy saidthat is because people who tan in the sun are most likely to use indoortanning facilities during the winter.

``The sun is not a competitor to the indoor tanning industry, the sunis a complement,'' Levy said.

Still, there has been a steady increase in melanomas -- the most commonform of skin cancer -- since the early 1970s. The American Cancer Societypredicts that there are about 35,000 new cases of melanoma a year, 7,200of which will result in death.

Rex Amonette, immediate past president of the American Academy of Dermatology,said there are two types of melanoma: one that develops without apparentexposure to sunlight and one that is stimulated by exposure to sunlight.

People who tan easily, usually darker-skinned people, generally developmelanomas at a lower rate than fair-skinned people who do not tan easily,but that doesn't mean people should develop a tan to prevent melanomas,Amonette said.

The tanning industry argues that people who develop a gradual tan areless likely to develop melanomas than those who tan erratically or getsunburned.

The basis for the tanning industry's arguments are a handful of reportswhich either claim beneficial results from moderate exposure to sunlightor warn of potential health problems from sunlight depravation.

The common factor in these reports is the theory that vitamin D reducescolon and breast cancer, which have high mortality rates and cause about138,000 deaths annually.

Indeed, the National Institutes of Health is in the midst of a multi-yearclinical trial evaluating whether calcium and vitamin D supplements couldreduce colon cancer and bone fractures in post-menopausal women.

Since the body's production of vitamin D is activated by sunlight, somereports suggest that exposure to the sun could reduce some forms of cancer.The tanning industry has seized on these works and, in some cases gonebeyond the scientific findings, to bolster their claims.

Several studies by epidemiologists Frank and Cedric Garland of the Universityof California at San Diego have noted a link between sun exposure and certainforms of cancer deaths.

Their 1980 study, for instance, showed that colon-cancer death rateswere significantly lower in parts of the United States where there wasmore sunshine. The Garlands' more recent studies in the U.S. and Russiashowed a similar pattern for breast cancer.

The mortality rate for all forms of cancer in the United States in 1995was lowest in sun-drenched Utah and Hawaii, according to the Cancer Journalfor Clinicians. In Utah it was 107 deaths per 100,000 residents; in Hawaiiit was 112 per 100,000. By comparison, it was 148 in Alaska and 152 inMaine. (It was 134 in Florida; 133 in Georgia; 132 in Texas, 134 in NorthCarolina, 149 in Ohio, 124 in Colorado).

But Dr. Michael Thun, an epidemiologist with the American Cancer Society,said the link between cancer deaths and geographic titude ``is rather weak.''

``Sunlight is not the only thing that changes as you go from north tosouth,'' Thun said, noting differences in physical activity, diet and accessto vegetables.

Among the reports most often quoted by the indoor tanning industry isa 1993 study by H. Gordon Ainsleigh, a Meadow Vista, Calif., chiropractorwhom the Smart Tan Network identifies as a physician.

Ainsleigh's report is an analysis of previous studies on the impactof sunlight or vitamin D that begins with a 1937 study which found thatU.S. Navy sailors had eight times the expected rate of skin cancer, butonly two-fifths the expected rate of internal cancer.

Ainsleigh strongly supports the tanning industry's contention that peoplecan protect themselves from cancer by moderate tanning -- including theuse of artificial tanning beds.

But two other researchers whose work is used the by the tanning industryto bolster its claims said they don't advocate using tanning salons toreduce cancer.

In its information packet, the Smart Tan Network quotes one, Dr. MichaelHolick, chief of endocrinology, nutrition and diabetes at Boston University,as advocating exposure to sunlight to prevent disease.

But Holick, noting ``intriguing evidence'' in laboratory studies thatvitamin D may have beneficial effects, said ``there is not enough evidence,''to suggest that exposure to sunlight can prevent cancer.

One reason is that, although sunlight activates the vitamin D that mayreduce the growth of cancer cells, the body only produces as much activatedvitamin D as it can use, Holick said. Therefore, increased exposure tosunlight does not increase the amount of activated vitamin D the body willproduce.

``I don't advocate it (tanning) as a healthful measure. I simply saythat if you're going to do it, do it responsibly,'' Holick said.

Levy said that's what the tanning industry is advocating, and that'swhy he supports the use of sun index guides in newspaper weather reports.

``I don't use the word safe (when referring to tanning) because safeassumes that something can be done recklessly without fear of injury,''Levy said. ``We're saying this is a smart activity, and you need to bethinking about what your skin can handle... What we're trying to promoteis being sun smart and avoiding sunburn.''

The tanning industry argues that people who tan indoors are 57 percentless likely to get sunburns -- which are linked to melanomas.

Dermatologists argue, however, that the best way to be sun smart isto avoid tanning.

``There is no such thing as a safe tan,'' said Dr. Darrell Rigel, professorof dermatology at New York University and secretary-treasurer of the AmericanAcademy of Dermatology. ``Tanning means your body senses that it's beinginjured by the ultraviolet rays that hit it. To get tanned you have tobe injured ... To go into a tanning salon just to get a tan makes absolutelyno sense.''

Thun, of the American Cancer Society, said ``it's a long leap to claimthat the potential benefits of moderate tanning in reducing the risk ofinternal cancer exceeds the known risk of skin cancer, including melanoma...The advertising is ahead of the science.''

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