The Kansas House passed a bill Thursday that would ban people younger than 18 from using tanning salons.
The 77-44 vote came one day after legislators engaged in a familiar debate, weighing House Bill 2369’s public health benefits against its infringement on personal liberties. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.
Supporters of the bill lined up on one side, saying government has a duty to protect its youngest citizens from a product or service proven dangerous, much like it does by restricting the sale of tobacco or alcohol.
“We clearly know what causes most cases of melanoma, and it is clearly tanning beds,” said Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, a Democrat from Kansas City. “This is not junk science. The jury is no longer out. The evidence is clear: Tanning causes cancer.”
Opponents of the bill called it another example of “nanny state” legislation and said teens ought to be able to tan with parental consent.
“Skin cancer is a tragedy, and to the extent we can avoid it, we should,” said Dick Jones, a Republican from Topeka. “But we should not be taking the responsibility away from the individuals and from the families.”
Rep. Brett Hildabrand, a libertarian-leaning Republican from Shawnee, said he put the tanning bill alongside past measures requiring seat belt use and motorcycle helmets as instances of government trying to protect people from themselves rather than its proper role of protecting people from each other.
Hildabrand also was the only opponent to attempt to make a medical argument in favor of tanning. He said some doctors advise their patients to visit tanning salons to combat the affects of seasonal affective disorder or skin conditions like eczema.
“There’s nothing in this bill that allows for medical exceptions,” Hildabrand said, recommending it be sent back to committee and reworked.
A 2010 survey of 6,881 indoor tanning salon clients commissioned by an industry group called the Smart Tan Network found that 11 percent were tanning on the advice of a doctor. The survey did not identify clients by age.
While individual doctors send some patients to tanning salons, major medical groups say the cancer risks outweigh any health benefits, especially for young people.
The American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, American College of Surgeons, Kansas Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatricians, Kansas Medical Society, Kansas School Nurses Association and other groups testified in favor of HB 2369 in committee.
So did Roy Jensen, director of the University of Kansas Cancer Center.
“There are no legitimate medical uses for indoor tanning,” Jensen said. “Some skin conditions may be treated by phototherapy — a controlled medical treatment performed by a medical professional in a clinic or hospital. But there are no medical conditions that should be treated with indoor tanning devices — often operated by teenagers — in a commercial setting.”
“There are no legitimate medical uses for indoor tanning.”- Roy Jensen, director of the University of Kansas Cancer Center
Several legislators who voted for the bill said they were moved not only by the testimony of medical experts, but by personal stories.
Rep. Dan Hawkins, a Republican from Wichita who chairs the House Health and Human Services Committee, said he voted against the measure when it was promoted by his predecessor, Rep. David Crum.
But after studying the evidence, he changed his mind and this year cast the deciding vote to advance it out of his committee. He said he recently got a phone call from a friend in Wichita who tanned as child and is now fighting melanoma.
“The last thing she said was, ‘Dan, do whatever you can to stop this,’” Hawkins said.
Rep. Diana Dierks, a Republican from Salina, shared the story of a friend whom she was often jealous of as a teenager because her friend always had a deep tan from visiting the tanning beds.
“She died three years ago,” Dierks said. “Melanoma.”