The chairman of the House health committee is working to resurrect a bill that would prohibit minors from using commercial tanning beds.
Rep. Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, is one of six legislators — three each from the House and Senate — on a conference committee charged with negotiating final versions of 17 health-related bills before the Legislature adjourns. Different versions of some bills in the committee have passed both the House and Senate. Others have cleared one chamber but not the other.
The tanning-ban bill passed the House in March, but the Senate never took it up.
Hawkins wants the Senate to vote on the bill in exchange for the House agreeing to consider two measures that are priorities for the Senate. One would tighten eligibility requirements for state welfare programs. The other would allow the companies that manage KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program, to initiate a “step therapy” program to control prescription drug costs.
The tanning bill would prohibit anyone under 18 from using ultraviolet tanning beds. It is a top priority for the American Cancer Society.
“We are very hopeful that lawmakers will prioritize cancer prevention in the remaining days of the session,” said Hilary Gee, a lobbyist for the society’s Cancer Action Network.
It also is a priority for the University of Kansas Cancer Center, which is seeking National Cancer Institute designation as a Comprehensive Cancer Center.
In a letter distributed to members of the Senate, Dr. Roy Jensen, director of the center, said passage of the tanning-ban bill could enhance the center’s NCI application, which will be submitted in September.
“This bill represents a key component of our drive towards demonstrating a robust cancer control and prevention program at the KU Cancer Center,” Jensen wrote.
The tanning industry maintains that advocates for tighter regulation are overstating the health risks of tanning bed use.
But Jensen and other doctors who testified for the Kansas bill said research shows that people who use tanning beds before age 35 dramatically increase their chances of developing melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer. A December 2012 study published in the British Medical Journal put the increased risk at 59 percent.
Jensen’s testimony in February at a House health committee hearing and the personal stories of two Kansas melanoma survivors helped convince members to recommend the bill to the full House, which passed it 77-44 on March 10.
“This bill represents a key component of our drive towards demonstrating a robust cancer control and prevention program at the KU Cancer Center.”- Dr. Roy Jensen, director of the University of Kansas Cancer Center
In an interview Thursday, Hawkins said getting the tanning-ban bill through the Senate and to Gov. Sam Brownback is a priority for the House members on the conference committee. He said if the Senate conferees aren’t willing to support it, House negotiators may withdraw their support for the step therapy and welfare eligibility bills.
"The bill needs to move forward,” he said.
However, it remains to be seen how hard Hawkins will push given that he also is a co-sponsor of the bill that would tighten welfare eligibility.
The federal Food and Drug Administration also is considering new restrictions on indoor tanning, including a ban like the one proposed in the Kansas bill. The public comment period closed in March but the regulations haven’t been finalized.