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updated: 4/15/2013 11:36 AM

Editorial: Tanning salons no place for teens

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

There are many things that the state of Illinois says 17-year-olds aren't ready for: voting, buying a lottery ticket, serving on a jury, buying cigarettes, getting a tattoo.

Why? Because 17-year-olds often lack the judgment to think through such decisions -- and weigh the consequences.

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But as long as mom or dad takes the child to a tanning salon and says it's OK to lay down a base for spring break or prom, kids from 14 to 17 years old can do that.

According to the The National Conference of State Legislatures, there are only seven other states on par with or less restrictive than Illinois when it comes to rules on teen tanning.

But that may change soon.

The Illinois House last week approved a plan that would prohibit anyone younger than 18 from using a salon tanning bed, parental permission or not. The vote was 67-49.

Its sponsor is Robyn Gabel, an Evanston Democrat who gathered plenty of party support.

Similar legislation is picking up steam in the Senate, from the other side of the aisle. Republican leader Christine Radogno is backing it there.

The American Cancer Society cites a University of Minnesota study that suggests the more someone visits a tanning bed, the greater risk that person has of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Damage may not show up for years.

The study found that people who had ever used an indoor tanning device were 75 percent more likely to developed melanoma. Frequent users -- those who have used a tanning device for 50 hours or for at least 10 years -- were 2 to 3 times as likely to develop it.

The World Health Organization, citing tanning's popularity among young people, suggests that the use of indoor tanning facilities be restricted to those 18 or older.

The American Suntanning Association, an industry group, espouses teaching tanning safety and moderation to teens and notes that parents should be involved in the decision.

But on its website, just above its disclaimer that "Exposure to ultraviolet radiation may increase the risk of skin damage, skin cancer and can cause serious eye injury," it notes that tanning beds provide a controlled environment for tanning.

The ASA has a point -- to a degree. Have you ever met a kid who willingly puts sunscreen on before playing outside? For many teens, a tan is merely a byproduct of being outside. But there is only one reason to go into a tanning booth.

If parents aren't looking out for their children's long-term health enough to keep them off the tanning bed, then keeping them out of tanning salons until they are old enough to make adult decisions is warranted.

There is an alternative, though. Both the American Cancer Society and the Mayo Clinic endorse spray tans as a safe option.

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