The Golden Tan: An Uncertain Risk to Teens

Ethicists Say the Issue Has No Clear-Cut Answer

ByABC News
August 15, 2006, 5:23 PM

Aug. 16, 2006 — -- "So a teenager can have an abortion but not get a tan without her parent's consent?"

Patrick Moroney, a Rockland County, N.Y, legislator, said this in The New York Times after his county passed a law that banned anyone under 16 from using a tanning salon, and restricted 16- and 17-year-olds from tanning salons if they didn't have a signed parental consent form.

His county, and many other cities and states across the United States, have taken a hard line against tanning salons, a $5 billion industry.

Moroney's powerful statement, however, illustrates the current hot debate about these new laws, which vary widely in their severity.

On one hand, there's growing but still inconclusive evidence linking the use of tanning beds to skin cancer, and the belief that teenagers, who are by nature risk-takers, should be protected from this threat.

On the other hand, critics say, even if tanning is dangerous, creating more laws to control teen behavior is unlikely to work, so perhaps the issue is best left a private discussion among parents and their teens.

Medical ethicists and women who have used tanning salons seem to agree that while tanning is not the greatest threat posed to teens, it's also not harmless.

So, when asked what they thought should be done, most of them said that the fairest compromise might be to post warning signs at tanning salons. They also said that parents and educators should be encouraged to discuss the risks of sun exposure with teens.

"I think for many things we need to post a warning and on others allow more freedom," said Dr. Stephen Lefrak, director of Humanities at the Washington University School of Medicine. "Tanning, while it may increase skin cancer, certainly is not as damaging as tobacco smoke or uncommitted immature sex."

The posting of signs -- similar to the warning labels on cigarettes -- allow for people to make independent but informed decisions, said Rosamond Rhodes, a medical education professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.