Indoor-tanning opponents renew call for legislation

TRENTON – Opponents of indoor tanning bed use by those ages 14-17 intensified their campaign today.

Lawmakers, health advocates and cancer survivors called for passage of a law, S1172/A2142, that would ban those teenagers from using indoor tanning salons.  Current law bans it for those under 14, but permits it for those 14-17 with parental consent.

The Senate passed the bill last legislative session, but the Assembly has not taken it up yet.

Assemblyman Herb Conaway, (D-7), Delanco, who also is a physician, said he is committed to getting the bill through the Health Committee he chairs.

In addition, he talked today of drawing up legislation that would ban indoor tanning salons from advertising in school newspapers.

Their forces were bolstered by a first-year lawmaker, Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, (R-39), Westwood, an admitted cancer survivor and former tanning salon patron.

She could not attend today’s press conference, but her statement was read aloud in which she acknowledged using tanning beds often as a teenager before proms, homecoming or spring break.

“Never did I expect that from using tanning beds I would be diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of malignant melanoma at the age of 25,’’ she said. “Why do we allow our children to greatly increase their risk of cancer for vanity purposes,’’ she said.

She had two operations and has survived to tell her story, but said many other teenagers have not.

Another survivor is Nutley resident Alyson Dougherty, 27.

She said that at the age of 16 she also resorted to tanning salons for proms and getting a base tan.

“I didn’t believe anything would happen,” she said. “I knew skin cancer was possible, but I felt it was so remote, that it was something older people got. At that age you feel invincible, untouchable.’’

But at the age of 21 she was diagnosed with third stage melanoma, an aggressive and potentially fatal disease. She, too, has survived, but worries about others like her who either don’t know the risks or ignore them.

“Short-term vanity is not more important than long-term health,’’ she said.

To drive that point home, as well as to renew the call for the N.J. Legislature to pass tanning bed restrictions, groups such as the American Cancer Society, the N.J. Dermatological Society and the Nutley-based Mike Geltrude Foundation held court in the Statehouse today.

May is National Melanoma/Skin Cancer Prevention month, and free skin cancer screenings were held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lawmakers and other personnel.

It is a matter of education, Conaway said. “A lot of this is driven by behavior, by habit,’’ said Conaway, who added that about 30 percent of under-age tanners have parents who also tan. “It gets back to the behavior of the parents.’’

The controversy has gained new attention after a N.J. mother, Patricia Krentcil, 44, was charged with child endangerment for allegedly bringing her 5-year-old daughter into a tanning booth. Krentcil has said the girl’s burns were suffered while playing outside on a warm day, and that she never was exposed to UV rays in a booth.

Edison-based Dr. Robert Paull of the N.J. Dermatological Society spoke of that incident today.

“Her skin has undergone incredible change and damage,’’ Paull said of the mother, adding that he knows her dermatologist. “He’s going to be kept busy for quite some time in the future. She has been a tanning addict for a long time.”

California and Vermont have passed similar legislation.

According to the advocates, the use of indoor tanning before the age of 30 increases the risk of melanoma by 75 percent. In addition, they said that over the last decade there has been a 43 percent increase in New Jersey of melanoma.

Previous coverage:

Indoor tanning bed law supporters push for vote in Assembly

Industry sees N.J. as key battleground over tanning bed laws