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Published: Saturday, 5/9/2009

No tanning police

PROTECTING children from harm is a worthy goal, but states, including Ohio, considering laws to discourage teens from visiting tanning salons are wasting their time as well as intruding on parental territory.

This misguided endeavor in Ohio is the work of state Rep. Courtney Combs, who failed two years ago to get a similar measure out of committee. He s hoping shortly to reintroduce a bill requiring that anyone under 18 have a doctor s prescription to use an indoor tanning facility.

Nationally, some 17 states are considering restrictions ranging from outright bans to notes from doctors or parents. At least 29 states already have restrictions on teen tanning.

In Ohio, anyone under 18 who wants that golden glow already needs written consent from a parent or guardian signed at the facility and specifying the number of tanning sessions allowed.

A stronger law is needed, Mr. Combs says, because parents aren t properly aware of the dangers of exposure to ultraviolet rays and enforcement of the current law is very lax.

The Hamilton Republican sounds positively, well, Democratic, but his heart is in the right place. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer diagnosed in the United States, with more than 1 million new cases each year resulting in thousands of deaths.

Overexposure to UV rays also leads to premature aging of the skin, leaving it thick, leathery, and lined, as well as to vision and immune system problems. But many young people are willing to trade the possibility of cancer in some hazy future for a deep tan to complement their prom dress next week.

The problem is that the American Cancer Society says laws to restrict indoor tanning by teens don t work. According to a study by the cancer group in the Jan. 1 issue of the journal Cancer, teens in states with restrictive laws were just as likely to visit tanning salons as those in states with no restrictions. The reason? Poor enforcement of existing regulations.

On a more positive note, the study found that the number of teens tanning indoors was small and unchanging 10 percent in 1998 and 11 percent in 2004 suggesting many have gotten the health message.

Realistically, unless lawmakers are willing to make backyard sunbathing and trips to the beach illegal as well and then sic the tanning police on malefactors legislation to protect teens from UV rays are bound to fail.

And so we find ourselves in the unusual position of reminding a Republican that more government isn t the answer. Emphasis in this case should be on enforcement of existing laws and teaching parents to say no to their children s desire for that sun-kissed look.

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