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Archive for August, 2010

On the melanoma.com website, a sidebar asks “Am I at Risk?” This is how the short questionnaire goes for me:

Do you have a family history of melanoma? Yes.

Have you had one or more severe, blistering sunburns as a child or teenager? Yes.

Do you have fair skin and light eyes? To say I have fair skin is like… well, yes.

Do you frequently spend time in the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. without skin protection? Aha! No, I am cooped up in an office.

Do you have many freckles? Ugh, yes.

If you answered yes to one or more of the above questions, you may be at risk.

So answering yes to four out of five, I’m feeling pretty at risk. What about you?

I am a pale person. I have come to accept this fact of my life. There was a period in my mid-20s when I did not accept this and worked very hard to keep a tan. I am one of those rare red-headed people who can actually obtain a tan, but after a mole on my side turned up scaly and weird, I went to the dermatologist and we had a heart to heart. In more professional terms, she basically said to me, “Allison, you’re being an idiot. Don’t go outside.”

I tanned, of course, because I felt it made me look better. I was in it for the vanity. I still feel I am more attractive when my skin is darker, and I’d say a majority of people agree that tan skin is better looking than pale skin. Also, a tan body looks thinner than a pale body. These are facts.

So, it’s no wonder that a lot of people insist on maintaining a level of tan that is unhealthy for them. Women are especially guilty of this, many of my friends included. Some even frequent tanning salons to keep their tans constant and even.

But with unambiguous evidence that ultraviolet rays—from the sun or an indoor tanning bed—cause cancer, at what point does health trump beauty? At what point do we look at tanning as a pleasurable practice that can actually kill us? In other words, when does tanning become the tobacco industry?

Well, July 1, 2010, if you ask the federal government. On that date, a 10 percent tax on indoor tanning salons went into effect as part of the health care overhaul. If you are not familiar with the tax, which was substituted into the bill at the eleventh hour instead of a tax on plastic surgeries, here is the Cliff’s Notes version:

  • The 10 percent tax applies only to services that use ultraviolet radiation with wavelengths in air from 200 to 400 nanometers. It does not include spray tans or airbrushing, such as Mystic Tan.
  • Gyms and fitness centers with tanning services are exempt, as are medically-related UV services conducted in doctors’ offices, such as phototherapy to treat skin conditions and seasonal affective disorder.
  • The tax is collected when you pay for the service or package, not when the service is rendered. If you are buying packages that combine UV services with non-UV services, the salon should tax at a rate below 10 percent.

As you can imagine, the tanning industry is less than pleased. The text on the web site repealtantax.com reads:

This tax was not drafted by congressional staff and did not go through the normal legislative vetting process or any committee consideration. As a result, it is poorly drafted, will be extremely difficult to collect and will harm thousands of small businesses and affect millions of consumers, mostly working and middleclass women.

What is next? Are these same special interests going to force the government to tax us for going to the beach and then subsidize sunscreen?

Join the owners, employees and customers of the indoor tanning industry nationwide calling on Congress and the President to repeal this regressive and punitive tax. (http://www.repealtantax.com)

I can certainly understand where they are coming from. Adding a 10 percent surcharge to almost the entire product line of a business is destined to hurt—and in a recession, no less. And that’s kind of the idea. Sure, the tax is projected to generate about $2.7 billion to help pay for the health care bill (not much when the price tag is an estimated $940 billion), but I think the end goal of the tax is to discourage people from tanning altogether. It’s the same logic for taxing cigarettes and alcohol.

Last year, a report sponsored by the World Health Organization reclassified tanning beds into the highest cancer risk category—“carcinogenic to humans.” The category includes tobacco smoke, asbestos, benzene, and ionizing radiation, among others. The report, published in the journal Lancet Oncology last summer, said that the risk of melanoma increases by 75 percent when use of tanning beds starts before age 30. Yes, 75 percent!

So why do people continue to pay money to increase their risk of cancer? Because they are in it for the sexy, as we all know. I was interested in tanning for the same reason, until I got a big wake-up call. But try telling a 16-year-old girl who is three weeks away from the prom that she is going to regret this someday.

Some 30 or so states require parental consent for anyone under 18 to use an indoor tanning facility, but if the mothers and fathers are buying tanning packages for themselves, it’s hard to think they aren’t going to do the same for their teenagers. Tanning is a culture, and if your mother thinks it’s important to be bronze, she’s probably ingraining it in your head as well.

I often hear people boast about how easily they tan, and I’m sure it is not as unhealthy for them to be tan as it is for me. But that does not mean it is healthy. A tan is the skin’s way of saying it’s injured. It produces melanin, a pigment that darkens the skin and helps to protect underlying tissues from further harm. The skin’s DNA is also injured and the damage accumulates over time, increasing the risk of skin cancers. Overexposure to the sun is bad for you, no matter how you slice it. A tan is your skin’s way of telling you it has been overexposed.

Knowing this, do you think the new tax on tanning beds is a step in the right direction, or do you think it has unfairly singled out a subset of the beauty industry? Would you vote to repeal it? Or perhaps you would vote to ban indoor tanning salons altogether?

Before I wrap this up, I would like to mention a fringe, yet fascinating, reaction to the tanning tax. Back in March, Doc Thompson, while filling in for Glenn Beck on his radio show, had this magnificent point to make:

For years, I’ve suggested that racism was in decline and yeah, there are some, you know, incidents that still happen with regards to racism, but most of the claims I’ve said for years, well, they’re not really real. But I realize now that I was wrong. For I now too feel the pain of racism. Racism has been dropped at my front door and the front door of all lighter-skinned Americans. The health care bill the president just signed into law includes a 10 percent tax on all indoor tanning sessions starting July 1, and I say, who uses tanning? Is it dark-skinned people? I don’t think so. I would guess that most tanning sessions are from light-skinned Americans. Why would the President of the United States of America—a man who says he understands racism, a man who has been confronted with racism—why would he sign such a racist law? Why would he agree to do that? Well now I feel the pain of racism. (Listen here)

Yep, that happened. And Thompson was not alone in his sentiments. Rush Limbaugh and many commenters on a Washington Post story agreed (Find it here).

Do you think the tanning tax is racist? More importantly, will the tax be useful in paying for the health care bill and for diminishing the incidence of skin cancer? Do you think anyone who tans indoors is going to care about a 10 percent tax? Are you at all concerned about your own risk of skin cancer? Please feel free to share your thoughts!

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