Rhode Island’s Tanning Ban Could Backfire

Last week the Rhode Island Senate approved a measure banning the use of tanning salons for patrons under 18 years old. While I don’t dispute the health risks presented by tanning booths and beds, Rhode Island’s outright ban will not stop motivated teens from getting a tan and the alternate methods could result in greater damage. Furthermore, the decision to tan or not to tan ought to be made between parents and their children.

While many news reports are claiming that the bill bans patrons under the age of 18 from using tanning beds, the text of the bill (S 2322), which was sponsored by Democrat Rhoda Perry, seems to actually ban anyone under the age of 18 from entering tanning salons — unless they have a prescription from their doctor. This means that not only can teens not use tanning booths or beds (the real goal of the legislation), but it also prevents them from using one of the numerous sunless tanning options, like spray-on or airbrushed tans, which have become increasingly popular in recent years as a safe alternative to sunbathing.

If the ban become the law of the land are teens going to simple accept their pasty fate? Of course not! As many opponents of the measure have noted, teens will simply use fake IDs, drive to neighboring states, or the most likely outcome: they will simply sunbathe outside. Rhode Island businesses will lose profit, the state will lose tax revenue, and teens could potentially be taking an even greater risk with their health.

Teens that go to tanning salons are generally not doing so every week of the year. More commonly, they go in the week or two leading up to a school dance or the prom. They pay a pretty high fee to spend 20 or 30 minutes in a booth or bed. If they choose to sunbathe outside, timing their exposure is a little trickier. Again, while I’m not advocating that anyone use a tanning bed or booth, at least the time of exposure is controlled rather than having the user wing-it outside where they could fall asleep and risk a burn — one of the most important risk factors for developing skin cancer later in life.

This legislation may be well-intentioned, but it simply will not do what it sets out to accomplish: stop teens from tanning. All it does is take away the parents’ right and responsibility to make this decision with their kids, and also eliminates a golden opportunity for parents to talk with their kids about the need to protect themselves from sun exposure every day — not just the risks of tanning once or twice a year.