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Tanning and Skin Cancer: Could indoor tanning be the next tobacco litigation?

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Let’s start with the basic facts: a suntan is caused by ultraviolet radiation from the sun or from a sunlamp at a tanning bed. The “tan” color is actually from skin cell damage–literally burned skin. The damage, especially when repeated through continued tanning, causes premature aging in the form of wrinkles, brown spots, lax skin, etc. It also causes skin cancer. But not all tanning is equal when it comes to risking skin cancer. Your Denver personal injury attorney draws attention to a crucial fact that people may not be aware of: people who tan indoors are 74% more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never tanned indoors.

Worldwide, there are more skin cancer cases due to indoor tanning than there are lung cancer cases due to smoking. In the U.S. alone, there are 419,254 cases of skin cancer due to indoor tanning every year, and 6,199 of those are melanoma–the deadliest form of skin cancer. 

So why is indoor tanning still so accessible and still so popular? Your Denver personal injury attorney points out that just as with the tobacco industry, despite the irrefutable evidence of the link between use and cancer, the FDA was reluctant to regulate the indoor tanning business. Up until this year, tanning beds were designated as Class I medical devices–along with bandages and tongue depressors. Yet, one session of indoor tanning increases the risk of melanoma by 20%, and each additional session in the same year increases the risk by 2%.  Furthermore, people who begin indoor tanning before 35 years old have a 75% higher risk of developing melanoma.

On May 29, 2014, the FDA re-classified the sunlamps used in tanning beds from low risk to moderate-risk devices, or Class II medical devices. This designation requires manufacturers to demonstrate to regulators that their products meet certain standards before they can market them. The products must also have black box warnings that people under 18 should not use them and that their use can lead to skin cancer. Some states have taken regulation of indoor tanning into their own hands by outlawing indoor tanning by minors, outlawing indoor tanning by anyone under 16, or requiring parental consent for those under 16 to indoor tan. In taking these regulatory steps, many states are supporting the position of the American Academy of Dermatology that restricting teens’ access to indoor tanning is critical to preventing skin cancer.

There is more to the indoor tanning story than an under-regulated industry, however. Just as with cigarettes, warnings of cancer and premature aging have not stopped people from engaging in the behavior. Continuation of such destructive behavior led researchers to look at indoor tanning as addictive and possibly compensating for other underlying disorders such as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). If indoor tanning is an addictive behavior–and there is evidence that it is–then like cigarettes, many people may have become hooked before knowing the dire health consequences of indoor tanning. How much the indoor tanning industry knew about the link between sunlamps and melanoma and when it knew this information is key to possible legal redress for people suffering from the consequences of behavior they may not have known was dangerous to their health.

The summer is the time to enjoy the good weather and get outside. However, your Denver personal injury attorney Jordan Levine of Levine Law reminds residents to take skin health seriously. If you feel that you have suffered an injury from a tanning bed that was improperly regulated, contact our offices for a consultation.