FDA panel recommends more tanning bed regulation

March 25, 2010 3:06:01 PM PDT
Federal health experts say more restrictions are needed to protect teenagers from the cancer risks of tanning beds, including a potential ban for people under 18.A Food and Drug Administration panel recommends the agency put tighter controls on artificial tanning, ranging from requiring parental consent forms to banning the practice in younger teens.

"Given the absence of any demonstrated benefit, I think it's an obligation for us to ban artificial tanning for those under 18," said panelist Dr. Michael Olding.

Other experts on the 16-member panel said the evidence is not strong enough to warrant a total ban.

Experts say the FDA usually follows the advice of panels like the one that met Thursday. A tanning bed has so far been classified as a medical device in the same category as a tongue depressor or an elastic bandage. Now, the FDA says it is considering reclassifying tanning beds as class two devices. More importantly, that means no one under 18 would be allowed to use one.

The concern came about because of the growing use by teenagers and young women, who through repeated use, would be a more at risk of skin cancer.

The continuing exposure to UV radiation amongst users is what has concerned many health experts. That and the growing number of users - 30 million people tan indoors every year, according to one estimate. And nearly three quarters of them are women under age 30.

They are young women like 18-year-old Katie Donnar, who began tanning in sixth grade.

"I was a cheerleader," she said. "I felt like I wasn't the best girl on the team. Everyone else was tan, so I tanned."

Katie tanned three times a week. When she started competing in beauty pageants in high school, her mom bought her her very own tanning bed.

"I started to notice this brown spot on my leg," she said. "It was a mole, it just didn't look like a regular one."

The diagnosis was not good. It was melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

"I thought as a 17-year-old there is no way I could have melanoma," she said. "The people I knew with skin cancer were a lot older."

Her cancer was fortunately caught early.

UV light is a known cause of cancer. It causes damage to the DNA in cells.

Last summer, a World Health Organization report put tanning beds in its highest category, "carcinogenic to humans." It is a warning experts in this country would like to see taken very seriously.

The tanning industry, however, has maintained that any association between tanning beds and melanoma is "speculative at best."

The tanning bed industry has maintained that they advocate limited use of tanning beds and say the FDA has done a good job of regulating the industry. But they are opposed any changes.

According to the melanoma research foundation, a nonprofit organization that aims to find a cure for melanoma, exposure to tanning beds before the age of 30 increases a person's risk of developing melanoma by 75 percent.

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