Will FDA Finally Limit Tanning Bed Use?

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Despite a report from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer last July which moved tanning beds into the highest cancer risk category as “carcinogenic to humans,” the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has still not budged from allowing minors to attend up to three tanning sessions during their first week of indoor tanning. Today, the FDA meets to discuss tanning beds, but will they finally limit their use?

Our neighbors to the north recently launched a campaign called “Indoor Tanning is Out,” in an attempt to educate Canadians, and especially people younger than 18, about the dangers of skin cancer associated with tanning bed use. Following the WHO announcement, lawmakers in the United Kingdom initiated efforts to ban young people from using tanning beds.

Use of indoor tanning beds before the age of 30 has been associated with an increased risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, by 75 percent. Dr. Allan Halpern, vice president of the Skin Cancer Foundation, was quoted in a US News & World Report article today as saying “We are hoping the FDA will reclassify tanning beds,” a reference to the WHO reclassification of last year. Currently in the United States, tanning beds are classified as class I medical devices, which places them on equal footing with tongue depressors.

In a Tweet from the Skin Cancer Foundation issued during the FDA meeting today, it noted that the “FDA believes there has been significant under reporting of tnning[sic] bed use.” The Foundation also noted that “Labels on tanning beds are too small and often not visible.” They would like the beds to be labeled in a manner that allows the tanning public to be better informed about their dangers.

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On the other side of the argument against restricting tanning bed use is the Indoor Tanning Association, which, according to executive director John Overstreet, believes “the FDA does a pretty good job of regulating the industry.” Overstreet continued by noting that “There is a lot of misinformation about the industry.”

For its part, the association will tell those attending the FDA meeting that there is a “whole myth about this relationship between melanoma skin cancer and indoor tanning, which is speculative at best.”

For now, the FDA requires tanning bed facilities to tell their customers to wear protective eye goggles and that they should limit their time in the tanning beds. Customers are also advised to avoid tanning if they have lupus or diabetes or if they are susceptible to cold sores. Verbal warnings about skin cancer are not required, but the FDA does require that tanning beds have labels that warn of skin aging, skin cancer, and eye injury.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the incidence of melanoma continues to rise significantly, at a rate faster than that of any of the seven most common cancers. Approximately 68,720 melanomas will be diagnosed this year, and nearly 8,650 people will die of the disease. Although melanoma accounts for only about 3 percent of skin cancer cases, it causes more than 75 percent of skin cancer deaths. It is the most common form of cancer for young adults ages 25 to 29 and the second most common for people ages 15 to 29.

When you add it all together: the WHO study results and the statistics from the Skin Cancer Foundation, it seems clear that the FDA should limit tanning bed use for young people. What will the FDA do?

SOURCES:
Skin Cancer Foundation
US News & World Report, Mar. 25, 2010

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