LANSING Scientists disagree whether the use of tanning beds causes cancer, but some legislators say there's enough evidence to ban minors from indoor tanning facilities.
The proposal to ban minors from using tanning facilities is sponsored by Rep. Jim Townsend, D-Royal Oak. He compares the bill to laws placing age restrictions on purchasing tobacco products or alcohol.
But the industry counters that a ban would be both unwarranted and economically damaging.
John Overstreet, executive director of the Indoor Tanning Association based in Washington D.C., said that reports have shown no strong link between tanning beds and melanoma, a form of skin cancer. For example a Norwegian study last year found that ultra violet (UV) rays, from both tanning beds and the sun, are safe and can help protect against melanoma.
Researchers on both sides or the debate can agree that some UV ray exposure is healthy.
"People should be getting some sun exposure every day, and it is limited exposure. The problem is when you get these intense exposures," said Michael Sabel, an associate professor of surgery at the University of Michigan Medical School.
Sabel said people misunderstand the dangers of skin cancer and incorrectly assume that skin cancer is easily treatable.
Some types are but the real danger is from melanoma, he said. "Melanoma is deadly, it spreads and is almost impossible to cure once it has spread to other parts of the body. Anyone with stage four melanoma will probably succumb to the disease."
Sabel argues that there's a direct, proven correlation between tanning beds and melanoma.
And a study from the University of Minnesota said people who use a tanning bed at all increase their risk of melanoma by 74 percent.
In 2009, melanoma was diagnosed in 2,240 Michigan residents, and resulted in 248 deaths, according the Department of Community Health and two federal agencies.
Sabel said that it is important to protect younger people from overexposure to UV rays.
"What many people fail to understand is that it is the sun exposure that you receive in your teenage years and your early 20s that leads to the melanoma 20 to 30 years later," Sabel said.
In 2008, The American Cancer Society said 27 percent of teens reported using tanning beds.
Current Michigan law requires parental consent for minors to use tanning facilities.
And Townsend said that the research justifies the proposed ban.
"I expect there will be some concerns raised by people who are making money in that area, and similar concerns could have been raised by people who were selling cigarettes to minors. You have to put the health of our young people above profits," Townsend said.
Overstreet, of the tanning industry group, said that the ban would damage business while failing to stop minors from exposing themselves to UV radiation.
He said the tanning industry has been struggling during the recession because it relies on disposable income, particularly of young people.
The ban would probably cost tanning facilities 3 to 5 percent of their business, he said.
He said that if people under 18 want to get a tan they can easily go outside.
In comparison, tanning facilities require parental consent and have professionals to supervise customers and prevent burns, he said
Overstreet said, "Government should not be telling parents whether their kids can get a sun tan or not. That should be left to parents."
Co-sponsors include Reps. David Rutledge, D-Ypsilanti; Joan Bauer, D-Lansing; Ellen Cogen Lipton, D-Huntington Woods; and Sean McCann, D-Kalamazoo.
California law already bars minors from tanning facilities, and dozens of other states are considering legislation that would require parental consent or ban minors, according to the AIM at Melanoma Foundation in California and Texas.
The bill was sent to the House Regulatory Reform Committee.