Minors could be barred from indoor tanning and a registry could be required to monitor the use of tanning beds by salons if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration heeds advice from a panel it convened to review the classification of tanning beds.
Ultraviolet, or UV, lamps for tanning currently are considered class I medical devices by the FDA, which means they are subject to relatively few regulations.
The FDA could boost tanning beds either to a class II or class III medical device -- a change that would mean stricter regulation. Among the new rules could be a prohibition of devices containing mirrors that amplify the power of UV exposure.
A few members of the FDA panel dissented on the under-18 ban. They agreed with the sentiment of a ban, but thought it would be unrealistic to implement a ban and would be better to require strong warnings and parental notification.
More than 30 million people tan indoors every year, and nearly three quarters of them are women between ages 16 and 29, according to the Journal of American Dermatology.
Using a tanning bed before the age of 35 increases the risk of melanoma -- the deadliest form of skin cancer -- by 75 percent, according to the Melanoma Research Foundation.
Skin cancer is one of the few cancers for which a preventative option exists, said Dr. Allen Halpern, vice president of The Skin Cancer Foundation, who testified at the panel meeting.
Tanning salon businesses, one of the many industries hard hit by the recession, are already feeling the heat with the passage of the Obama administration's new health care bill. The bill includes a 10 percent tax on individuals receiving indoor tanning services, and the initiative is expected to generate $2.7 billion over 10 years to help fund the health care overhaul.
The Indoor Tanning Association, a Washington-based trade group, estimated the tax would hit 18,000 retail businesses nationwide, "harming these companies and jeopardizing the thousands of jobs they generate."
But for some organizations, an increased tax is not enough to curb the use of tanning beds. National organizations such as the Skin Cancer Foundation, American Cancer Society and American Academy of Dermatologists, along with melanoma survivors, also testified to urge the FDA to reclassify the devices.
Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers among young adults in the United States, and the rates of skin cancer among Americans of all ages continue to rise.
While genetics play a large part in a person's cancer risk, many studies suggest that exposure to UV light and the use of tanning beds at a young age is a major cause of skin cancer.
More than three-quarters of all skin cancer-related deaths are from melanoma, according to Halpern. And about one person dies of melanoma every hour in the United States, he said.
"The science reinforces the contribution of tanning to skin cancer, including melanoma," said Halpern. "If enforced, the regulations we are suggesting have the potential to reduce the incidence of skin cancer which is now occurring at epidemic levels."
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a group affiliated with the World Health Organization, recently added tanning beds to its "Group One" list, which identifies the most harmful forms of radiation.