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New sun bed law hits home for melanoma survivor


November 2014

New sun bed law hits home for melanoma survivor

A FORMER intensive sunbed user and melanoma survivor, Debra Duke, has applauded a move to tighten controls on operators and ban under 18-year-olds and fair-skinned adults from using sunbeds.

The 35-year-old Tauranga woman had surgery twice this year to remove two melanomas from her back and she is waiting to receive the biopsy results for another spot on her cheek.

“I had this horrible gut feeling and so I booked in for a skin cancer check. I couldn’t’t believe that something so small could be a melanoma, particularly when it displayed no typical characteristics of the disease,” she said.

Debra is concerned her melanoma may have been a direct result of using sunbeds in her early 20’s.

Tauranga dermatologist and member of the New Zealand Dermatological Society Incorporated (NZDSi), Dr Ben Tallon, says the Government bill to restrict sun bed use is a step in the right direction, but long overdue.

“Some sunbeds emit UV radiation up to five times the strength of the midday summer sun and there’s no standard of regulation between the different devices,” he said.

The Health Skin Cancer and Trauma Prevention Amendment Bill was put forward by National MP Dr Paul Hutchison and unanimously passed its first reading in Parliament earlier this month.

Debra says some sunbed operators often claim the UV rays of commercial tanning devices were “not as damaging as the sun” and “it was a safe way to tan indoors”.

“I was completely unaware of the health risks associated with using sunbeds. If I had have been told about the high risk of developing skin cancer there is no way I would have ever used one,” she said.

Debra recalls using a sunbed two to three times per week for about 15-30 minutes in the months leading up to summer.

“I’m quite fair and always struggled to get a tan naturally, but I had no idea that I was dramatically increasing my risk of developing skin cancer,” she said.

The new law banning 18-year-olds from using commercial tanning devices and restricting use by fair-skinned people will be in place by the end of the year. Details on how the ban will be enforced across New Zealand are still being developed by the Ministry of Health.

Dr Tallon applauds the Government on the progress that has been made but says the NZDSi would like to see a national ban imposed.

“Australia has really stepped up on banning commercial sunbed use and I think we need to follow suit,” he said.

Across the Tasman, sunbeds have been prohibited in Queensland and New South Wales, with bans in South Australia to take effect by 2015.

New Zealand has the highest incidence of melanoma in the world. In 2009, there was a total of 2212 melanoma registrations and 326 deaths. The current voluntary standards for using sunbeds in New Zealand include client consent, no use for under 18-year-olds and exclusion of people with pale skin who always burn.

In 2009, the World Health Organisation classified UV radiation from tanning beds as “carcinogenic to humans” and concluded that first exposure to sunbeds before age 30 significantly increases a person’s risk of developing melanoma by 75 percent.

Dr Tallon says while sunbed use is widely associated with an increased risk of early onset melanoma, it is also a direct cause of non-melanoma skin cancers, sun burn and premature aging.

“Exposure to UV radiation causes DNA damage that can lead to the development of both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers,” he said. “There is no such thing as a safe tan.”

New Zealand health groups including the Cancer Society, Consumer NZ, Melanoma Foundation and the NZDSi are concerned that those operating commercial tanning devices don’t understand the risks and are not communicating these to customers.

Surveys by Consumer New Zealand of sunbed operators have consistently shown there is a high level of non-compliance across the indoor tanning industry.

A recent Consumer NZ mystery shopper sunbed survey found that many sunbed operators were not complying with voluntary regulations. Only three out of 30 Auckland and Wellington clinics refused a sunbed to a person with very fair skin, according to its latest survey published in September.

Dr Tallon says “fast tanning” or “10 minute” sunbed devices are especially unsafe, and warns teenagers against the addictive nature of commercial sun tanning.

“It’s about protecting youth and building public awareness around the risks of commercial sunbed use so adults can make an informed decision,” he said. “We are trying to prevent the use of additional harmful devices that we know are cancer-causing. But we understand the Government’s view of wanting to provide balance for protecting individual choice.”

Melanomas can be detected early through routine skin checks, with studies showing a reduced prevalence of melanoma with population screening.

Debra admitted that while she was young and travelling, the medical costs associated with seeing a specialist always put her off going for a check-up.

“I’m living proof that early detection is money well spent,” she said.

More information can be found on the New Zealand Dermatological Society (NZDSi) website at

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The New Zealand Dermatological Society Incorporate (NZDSi) is a not-for-profit incorporated society of more than 60 dermatologists, medical and surgical specialists, who work towards the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the skin.

The Society was established in 1948 and its members are specialist dermatologists who are the medical experts for skin diseases, conditions and treatment. All members are Fellows of the Society, and may use the postnominal initials FNZDS to confirm they have completed training requirements and are currently registered as dermatologists by the Medical Council of New Zealand.

Dermatologists are medical doctors. For a doctor to become a dermatologist, they must complete an additional three years of post medical training, plus four years of advanced training in dermatology.

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