The tanning industry is coming after our daughters

I’ve got two kids. They aren’t teenagers yet, but they’re old enough that I can already see trouble coming.

Even the best parents – and I’m not putting myself in that category – need help.

Our kids are bombarded with mixed messages and marketing, all designed to change their behavior. Most of the time, it’s not for the good.

I have daily conniption fits over the way my kids dress. If I have to tell my son one more time to pull up his pants, I’m attaching suspenders to all of his jeans.

And when I go to the mall with my 9-year-old daughter, I try to keep the freak-out factor over the clothes controlled. I’m praying for a style revival from the 1980s, when the pants were baggy, the collars were up, and the layered look was in.

Even as an aspiring grumpy old man, I’m not going to go on about fashion or “kids today.”

Instead, I’m going to talk about science and the clash of science with a very good political talking point.

State Sen. Geoffrey Gratwick, a Democrat from Bangor and a doctor, sponsored legislation this year that would ban teenagers under the age of 18 from indoor tanning.

The bill passed the Legislature largely along party lines. The governor vetoed the bill, and Republicans in the Maine Senate voted to sustain the veto.

In his veto message, Gov. Paul LePage wrote: “This bill does one thing: it tells Maine parents that Augusta knows better than they do when it comes to their children.”

It’s a great talking point, and it plays straight to the Republican base and to those who might be of a libertarian mindset.

As a parent, my ears perk up, too. I don’t want Augusta telling me how to raise my kids.

But as a parent, I should know better than to allow my kids to use a tanning bed. If I don’t, somebody needs to tell me that it’s dangerous.

And as a parent, I need help from the state to make sure things that put my kids at an unacceptable risk aren’t allowed.

Currently, parental consent is required for minors to use a tanning bed.

Unfortunately, some parents don’t understand the risks or ignore them, and they allow their kids to tan, enough so that the industry doesn’t want to lose this prime market.

Congressional investigators found that tanning salons often mislead teens – and their parents – about the health affects of indoor tanning.

A February 2012 report found that of 300 tanning salons contacted nationally, 90 percent state that indoor tanning did not pose a health risk, while more than half of salons denied that indoor tanning would increase the risk of skin cancer.

In fact, nearly 80 percent of salons said that indoor tanning is beneficial to health, and some said it would prevent cancer.

At least one salon said: “It’s got to be safe, or else they wouldn’t let us do it.”

We shouldn’t let them do it.

The science is shocking.

A study released last fall by the University of California-San Francisco estimated that indoor tanning is responsible for more than 170,000 new cases of skin cancer a year just in the United States.

“The numbers are striking – hundreds of thousands of cancers each year are attributed to tanning beds,” said Dr. Eleni Linos, an assistant professor of dermatology at UCSF and senior author of the study. “This creates a huge opportunity for cancer prevention.”

The Centers for Disease Control warns that people who begin tanning before the age of 35 have a 75 percent higher risk melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer.

And the industry is coming after our daughters. Really.

Investigators found that salons target teenage girls with their advertising, offering student discounts, prom discounts, homecoming specials and “back-to-school” deals.

The 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, a survey that monitors behaviors, found that 21 percent of high school girls and 32 percent of girls in 12th grade report indoor tanning.

We don’t let kids smoke. We force them to sit in car seats. We don’t let them drink. If you’re under 18 in Maine, your driver’s license has restrictions: No driving after midnight, no cell phones, only family as passengers.

Tanning shouldn’t be different.

Tanning is all about vanity. It helps to instill unhealthy attitudes, and, by our inaction, we are implicitly saying that it’s OK to trade your health – to greatly increase your risk of cancer – for the right look.

Despite the governor’s great talking point, if you’re letting your kids tan, then you need somebody to tell you what to do.

David Farmer

About David Farmer

David Farmer is a political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s campaign for governor and a longtime journalist. You can reach him at