The War on Tanning Beds

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NPR reports that new tanning bed regulations are likely. This is reported in connection with research showing that people who frequent tanning salons have a higher tendency towards skin cancer.

Two possible regulations were discussed: 1) a federal ban on tanning beds altogether (less likely according to the media) or 2) requiring minors to have parents consent before being allowed to use a tanning bed. Note that these regulations will not come from our elected representatives in Congress since they have long ago shirked their responsibilities and ceded power to the unelected executive branch bureaucrats (in this case, FDA).

Assuming that it is only option #2 that goes forward, what is the problem here? For the civil libertarian, this is an obvious imposition of the state in private, personal matters. For anyone who just blows with the wind of their emotions (“Tanning is vain. UV light is bad. Think of the children!!!”), here are some more problems. First — there is no data to back up such a measure. The research that was conducted concludes (emphasis added):

In a highly exposed population, frequent indoor tanning increased melanoma risk, regardless of age when indoor tanning began.

Additionally, this is a hardship for small business owners. There will be legally necessary paperwork and staff training to ensure that there is parental approval. Another point — this is going to be unenforceable (look at how well those “R” rated films are kept away from teens, for an example). However, I expect the enforcing arms of the state will regularly promise to improve their enforcement if only they can be given more money to fund the program.

Shall I go on?

Here’s a good one: regulation will add to sky-rocketing healthcare costs. There is a small percentage of the population that is “allergic” to the sun. A doctor-recommended procedure for these patients is to maintain their melanin levels by tanning in beds where the exposure to light can be controlled. To the extent that tanning salons make such UV treatment more affordable or promote cost-cutting improvements in technology, they are helping to keep medical costs lower. And, don’t forget, we are facing a serious problem with vitamin D deficiency among youths. We may need as many tanning beds as we can get in the near future.

A tanning salon owner interviewed for the program said that this is a slippery slope — first the tanning beds, then what? Policing our beaches and pools for over-exposed teens? I agree with him. Once the premise is accepted that the federal government can regulate tanning beds “for the children,” Americans will not be phased by further infringement. Will parents of sunburned children be reported by public school teachers to the police for neglect? Will amusement parks have to shut down at the peak daylight hours on sunny days or face the consequences?

The point is this: state interference of private life is both morally wrong and comes at the expense of some groups. Make no mistake: the beneficiaries here are the power-hungry bureaucrats.

9:01 am on May 27, 2010