'Tanning Tax' in Health Care Law Has Patrons, Industry Burning

Overstreet and many of the group's 1,000 members have been urging Congress to eliminate the tax during the ongoing reconciliation battle in the Senate, but they're not holding out hope. Any changes to the bill at this stage would require sending it back to the House for another vote – something Democrats don't want to do.

"A lot of these people [members of Congress] probably didn't even know it was in the bill until it was too late," said Deveney.

Tanning Industry in Government Cross-Hairs

Industry groups say the government estimate of $2.7 billion in revenue over 10 years from the new tax is overstated. "It's a fantasy," said Overstreet. "We wish we made that much each year."

The average indoor tanning patron spends $75 per year on sessions at one of more than 18,000 salons across the country, according to industry statistics. Each small business brings in an average annual gross revenue of $150,000.

The industry has struggled since its heyday in the late 1980s and early 1990s after some scientific studies uncovered a link between ultraviolet rays and skin cancer. The recent recession has also hurt business, since many people see tanning as a luxury.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization have both declared UV radiation from the sun and other sources as cancer-causing, in the same category as tobacco smoke and asbestos.

And now the Food and Drug Administration is considering new restrictions on the indoor tanning industry.

William James, president of the AADA, which represents more than 12,000 dermatologists and is pushing greater regulation, wants the FDA to ban the use and sale of tanning beds in the U.S. outright.

"As dermatologists, we find ourselves facing what can only be called an epidemic of skin cancer in this country," he said in statement to the FDA. "The AADA strongly supports increased regulation of tanning beds that create skin damage that can dramatically increase one's risk of developing skin cancer."

Overstreet disagrees, saying UV rays from indoor tanning are no different from the outdoor sun and can actually have healthful effects, such as increasing the body's absorption of vitamin D.

More than 1 million people tan in tanning salons each day, according to the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology.

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