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Cancer Society Calls For Sunbed Ban For Teens

Media release
21 March 2005

Cancer Society Calls For Sunbed Ban For Teens

The Cancer Society of New Zealand is endorsing a call by the World Health Organization (WHO) for a ban on the use of sunbeds by anyone under the age of 18.

WHO has released a statement highlighting the known fact that young people who get burnt from exposure to UV will have a greater risk of developing melanoma later in life. Recent studies also demonstrate the direct link between the use of sunbeds and cancer.

“We absolutely endorse WHO’s recommendation that no person under the age of 18 should use a sunbed. In fact, we’d like to see regulations introduced to control the use of sunbeds all together,” says the Cancer Society’s SunSmart spokesperson Wendy Billingsley.

Currently the only standards applying to sunbeds in New Zealand are voluntary.

The WHO release noted mounting concern over the past several years that people and in particular, teenagers, are using sunbeds excessively to acquire tans which are seen as socially desirable.

“Worldwide, there are an estimated 132,000 cases of malignant melanoma – the most dangerous form of cancer – annually and an estimated 66,000 deaths from malignant melanoma and other skin cancers. These figures continue to rise. In the United States the rate has doubled in the last 30 years. Growth in the use of sunbeds, combined with the desire and fashion to have a tan, are considered to be the prime reasons behind this fast growth in cancers,” Ms Billingsley says.

The highest rates of skin cancer are found mainly in those nations where people are fairest-skinned and where the sun-tanning culture is strongest, including Australia and New Zealand. In New Zealand, in 2000, there were 253 deaths from melanoma and the rates are rising as a result of the sun-worshipping practices of the 1970s.

Family physician with a strong interest in skin cancer and its prevention, Dr Chris Boberg says there is no doubt sunbed usage has resulted in a precipitous rise in the number of skin cancer cases.

“Some of the consequences of excess UV exposure include skin cancers, eye damage and premature skin ageing. Furthermore, excessive UV exposure can reduce the effectiveness of the immune system, possibly leading to a greater risk of infectious diseases.”

Dr Boberg agrees with WHO’s recommendation that only in very rare and specific cases should medically-supervised sunbed use be considered.

“Medical UV devices successfully treat certain skin conditions such as dermatitis and psoriasis. These treatments should only be conducted under qualified medical supervision in an approved medical clinic and not unsupervised either in commercial tanning premises or at home using a domestic sunbed.”

Some sunbeds have the capacity to emit levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation many times stronger than the midday summer sun in most countries.

But only a few countries have effective regulations on sunbeds or their use, Ms Billingsley says. Belgium, France and Sweden have legislation, limiting the maximum proportion of UVB (the most dangerous component of UV radiation) in the UV output to 1.5% (a similar level to the carcinogenic UV that is emitted by the sun).

In France, the regulations require all UV-radiation-emitting appliances to be declared by the health authority, minors under the age of 18 are banned from their use, trained personnel must supervise all commercial establishments and any claim of health benefit is forbidden. The State of California in the United States prohibits anyone under 18 from using sunbeds/tanning salons.

“WHO is encouraging all countries to formulate and reinforce laws in order to better control the use of sunbeds and we very much hope New Zealand will be one of these,” Ms Billingsley says.


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