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Commission warnings misleading, say sunbed operators

26th August 2011


Commission warnings misleading, say sunbed operators

Sunbed operators are seeing red this week after a spate of news they say misleads and deceives the public about indoor tanning.

On Monday the Commerce Commission announced a letter had been sent to sunbed operators, outlining the applicability of the Fair Trading Act 1986 to claims about the risks and benefits of sunbed use.

But some in the indoor tanning industry feel this was misleading. “The announcement created media frenzy, with both mainstream news and politicos reporting as if sunbed operators had already been found to be in breach of the Act,” says Tiffany Brown. Brown’s company- Get Brown Tanning- was one of the five sunbed operators named in a complaint brought to the Commission by the Cancer Society and Consumer NZ.

“The fact is the announcement constituted the Commerce Commission’s final decision on the matter- which is that no further action is to be taken.”

Kirsty Ethynes of the Indoor Tanning Association (INTANZ) agreed, telling, “The fundamental result is the complaint was made and there has been no breach found.”

Australian courts ruled in 2008 several solarium operators were in contravention of the Trade Practices Act 1974, following a complaint brought by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. The operators were charged with publishing misleading information on their websites and their promotional material.

Brown says those operators should have paid closer attention to ensuring their information was accurate and substantiated. “In our case, the Complainants asserted that a number of representations we make are misleading under the terms of the Fair Trading Act. But because we could substantiate and back up all these claims with valid and up-to-date scientific research, expert opinion, and vast anecdotal reporting, the Commission is taking no further action.

“The sunbed operators named in the complaint are at the forefront of the industry here,” Brown says, adding that she and her colleagues are pleased and ‘not surprised’ by the end result of the investigation.

“Instead of maintaining pressure on the professional operators like us whose businesses are compliant with industry best practice, we want to see those smaller, ‘add-on’ providers targeted.”

Of the 69 operators included in the 2010 Consumer survey, only eleven were salons providing indoor tanning services exclusively. The remaining 85% included sunbed units located in gyms, hair salons and beauty therapists.

“Any advice that raises the standard of service in the industry is a positive step, but we’d like to see better, more co-operative initiatives.”

Brown claims repeated attempts by the industry to work with health boards and cancer groups have been ignored or rebuffed. “It’s alarming to us that those supposedly concerned with improving public health outcomes are being so totalitarian in their approach to the issue. They seem to be hoping we’ll ‘go away quietly’, rather than pooling our resources to develop programmes that ensure those who choose to tan indoors are protected, and fully informed.”

The latest Consumer survey reported total compliance under the ‘Warnings’ category for Palmerston North sunbed operators. “This is clear evidence that co-operative initiatives can get results,” says Brown. Last year Mid Central Public Health dispatched warning notices and compliance advice to sunbed operators in the region. “Rather than directing resources into bogus complaints about compliant operators, government should encourage local boards to get involved at the grassroots level like this. This has already proven to be a more effective strategy to protect indoor tanners.”

The Commerce Commission’s letter advises that UVB light from a sunbed will help produce Vitamin D in the skin. Brown and her colleagues believe this corroborates the same finding announced by NIWA’s Dr. Richard McKenzie last year. But the advice is contrary to claims made in the 2010 Consumer report by Dr. Marius Rademaker, a Waikato dermatologist. INTANZ asserts Rademaker’s comments were inaccurate and misleading, and as a result of their complaint the matter is currently being reviewed by the Press Council.

Vitamin D is synthesized in the skin by exposure to UV light, but sunbed clients must also be warned of the potential hazards of over-exposure to UV light, warns the Commission. “Of course this is something we already do.” says Brown.

The Consumer survey found only seven out of 69 sunbed operators fully compliant with their ‘mystery shopper’ test. Brown claims most reports on the survey- other than Consumer’s original pay-per-view article- have been selective, and critics should examine the data more closely.

“Over half of the operators surveyed were compliant with the guideline on advising high-risk groups such as under-18 year olds, while more than 85% provide eye protection to their clients, and this is an improvement on previous surveys.”

Both MP Simon Bridges and the Green Party claimed this week regulation of the industry is needed to protect young people and to prevent eye damage. “It’s disappointing they didn’t look into the issue properly first,” says Brown, adding that most sunbed operators are now at a good level of compliance with these points.

“Selective reporting causes gross misunderstanding. Whether they like it or not, our detractors do share a key concern with good sunbed operators- we all want to see better public health outcomes for skin cancer, and we all want to see an improvement across the board in our industry. The Commission has warned us about being selective with our reported information. We are hopeful those criticizing us will begin to follow the same advice.”


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