Stricter Laws Needed to Keep Kids Away From Tanning Beds

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"Melanoma and other skin cancers, including squamous cell cancers are on the rise in children," said Dr. James Fahner, division chief, pediatric hematology/oncology at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich. "The science is unequivocal. This is high-risk behavior for kids."

Tanning may not be harmful right away, but its effects can be devastating later on.

"It's cumulative, continuous exposure that's harmful," said Fahner.

Experts say not everyone who tans will get skin cancer, and the risk of developing it varies from person to person. But they say they cannot overstress the dangers of indoor tanning.

"If you start tanning at a young age, you're going to increase your risk of cancer," said Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York.

Parental Role is Key

"We need to better educate parents and teens about the dangers of these places," said Dr. Sophie Balk, an attending pediatrician at The Children's Hospital at Montefiore in New York. Balk helped write the American Academy of Pediatrics statement supporting a ban on teen tanning. "I don't think parents are educated enough, because most parents , if they knew about it, would not allow their kids to have this exposure."

Balk also said the government needs to treat tanning the same way as another dangerous underage activity.

"We should think about tanning laws the same way we think about smoking laws," she said.

The study authors also say that parents can help lower their child's risk for developing skin cancer by avoiding tanning salons themselves, not allowing their children to go, prohibiting their children from using their allowance for tanning or speaking out in favor of better laws.

"This study is similar to previous studies that have been performed that have shown that parents significantly influence their children's behaviors," said Zeichner, who is also a spokesperson for the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Societal attitudes about beauty also play a role in many young people's desire to have darker skin at any cost.

"It's also a cultural belief that being tan is healthy and it looks better, but in fact it's not healthy. You get DNA damage when you tan, which is not healthy," said Balk.

Part of the reason adolescents may not heed repeated warnings is because they are just being typical teenagers who believe they are invincible.

"They're going to assume it doesn't apply to them. They assume they're young and healthy and have nothing to worry about."

That's exactly what Kelly Wiley thought, too.

"I never thought it would happen to me. I even went tanning right after I had my biopsy," she said. "Well, it can happen, and it does happen."

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