"It's what teens do," Samantha Van Dresser told the New York Times. "Especially in Florida." The Florida teen was the focus of a story that outlined growing concerns about indoor tanning in America and the health side effects that come with prolonged exposure to UV rays.
The key words here are "concerns" and "growing."
There are two kinds of Floridians -- those who bask in the glow of indoor tanning booths, and those who have no earthly idea why someone living in the "Sunshine State" wouldn't just step outside in the sun. No matter what side of the fence you're on, one thing has become increasingly undeniable: Indoor tanning raises your risk of cancer.
This isn't a new idea; tanning salons have always been thought to be dangerous. People are paying more attention now because the average age of people diagnosed with skin cancer continues to drop.
The number of melanoma cases in women under 40 has risen by a third since the early 1990s, according to data from the National Cancer Institute, and it's clear tanning salons are part of the reason. The International Agency for Research on Cancer estimates the risk of cutaneous melanoma is increased by 75 percent when the use of tanning devices begins before age 30, and scientific evidence suggests tanning beds account for as many as 400,000 cases of skin cancer in the United States each year, including 6,000 cases of melanoma, the deadliest form.
A shocking revelation of just how huge the industry has grown, even here in Florida where the sun is at its brightest practically year-round: A 2014 University of Miami study found that indoor tanning establishments now outnumber McDonald's restaurants, CVS stores, and Bank of America branches in Florida. An overwhelming majority of tanning salon customers are young people. It's estimated there's one indoor tanning salon for every 15,113 people in Florida, or one every 50 square miles.
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Just a reminder, we're talking about Florida, not Wisconsin.
Measures to dissuade not only younger generations but also everyone from playing Russian roulette with their health have become more frequent. In 2010, Obamacare imposed a 10 percent tax on tanning salons, and early last year, South Florida legislators sponsored the Preventing Youth Cancer Act, which would have required parental consent and a doctor's prescription for those 18 and younger. The act would have also allowed for a prescribed number of sessions. In 2011, California became the first state to ban tanning for minors, and many other states are looking to follow suit in 2015.
It remains to be seen if younger people have begun to avoid indoor tanning, as they have increasingly done with cigarettes. Let's hope it won't take them as long to notice the dangers of tanning as it did for them to realize tobacco kills.