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A Wake-Up Call on Tanning Beds

A cry of 'game over' has been issued over recreational tanning.
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The ping-pong being played over exposure to the sun — spotlighted by Rob Kuznia in "The Sun Is Bad For You; The Sun Is Good For You" — started a new game Thursday with the release of a spate of papers questioning the concept of a safe tan achieved through ultraviolet radiation.

Researchers in cell biology, dermatology and epidemiology lobbed the ball back at the indoor tanning industry, which in March launched an aggressive PR campaign.

"But, how safe are tanning beds?" asked Marianne Berwick of the University of New Mexico Cancer Research and Treatment Center in the summary to her paper. "Epidemiologic data — incomplete and unsatisfactory — suggests that tanning beds are not safer than solar ultraviolet radiation and that they may have independent effects from solar exposure that increase risk for melanoma."

In another of the papers, dermatologist David E Fisher, president of the Society of Melanoma Research, Thanh-Nga T. Tran and Joshua Schulman (all of Massachusetts General Hospital's melanoma program) wrote:

"UVR [ultraviolet radiation] exposure represents one of the most avoidable causes of cancer risk and mortality in man. Whereas genetic and other factors undoubtedly contribute importantly to skin cancer risk, the role of UV is incontrovertible, and efforts to confuse the public, particularly for purposes of economic gain by the indoor tanning industry, should be vigorously combated for the public health."

In addition, they call for warning labels (like those used in Britain) and banning the use of tanning beds for those under age 18 - something the tanning industry is vigorously fighting in states like Ohio and Massachusetts that already are considering such bans.

"Recreational exposure to this known mutagen should be discouraged," wrote Dorothy C. Bennett at the University of London.

The papers were published in published in the October issue of Pigment Cell & Melanoma Research.