Kora Morgan started using a tanning bed in the 1980s at age 13.
The tanning bed used UV or ultraviolet rays and was supposed to be safe. “So when I was 13 and 14 years old, I tanned quite a bit,” Morgan said.
The family even had a tanning bed at home, Morgan said, adding she stopped using the machine when she was 19.
Now, years later, Morgan is fighting deadly Stage 4 melanoma cancer, a direct result of those early years of tanning, she told a House committee on Wednesday.
She urged the House Health and Welfare Committee to ban use of tanning equipment using ultraviolet radiation on customers under age 18.
“The most dangerous time to use these machines is when you are a young adult,” said Morgan, a 40-year-old mother of two from New Orleans.
“They are carcinogenic. They are unsafe,” she said, comparing the tanning machines with cigarettes.
The health committee listened and voted 17-1 for the legislation under which tanning salons would lose young customers.
State Rep. Richard Burford, R-Stonewall, was the lone “no” vote.
“It’s not because I want people to get melanoma,” Burford said. He said his objection is one of government interference in parental responsibility.
House Bill 746, sponsored by state Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, now moves to the House floor for action.
No one from the tanning industry testified against the bill.
Melanoma is readily detectable and usually curable, if treated early, but the skin cancer progresses faster than other types of cancer and can spread to other parts of the body, including bones and the brain. Once it spreads, melanoma becomes hard to treat and is incurable. Exposure to UV rays and sunburn are risk factors of melanoma.
Moreno said health dangers of exposure to the ultraviolet radiation from tanning beds among young people necessitates the action.
“Louisiana needs legislation like this so we can prevent cancer cases,” said Moreno.
Dr. Mara Haseltine, a New Orleans dermatologist, said the state is sending a bad signal to parents and youth with the existing state law, which allows tanning sessions for minors with parental consent. She said parents don’t know the ill effects of tanning machines and are thinking “If they are letting us do this, it must be safe.”
“Why let them do another cancer-promoting habit?” Haseltine asked.
State Rep. Bernard LeBas, D-Ville Platte, wondered why there had been no ban to date, adding that melanoma cancer is costly to combat.
“We just didn’t have the research, and it took time for studies and research to catch up,” said Moreno. She compared it to the situation surrounding the impact of smoking.
LeBas said the state should maybe think about banning tanning beds for everyone because of the health risks.
The legislation drew support from the Louisiana State Medical Society and the Louisiana Chapter of the American Cancer Society.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, five states ban the use of tanning beds for all minors under 18: California, Illinois, Nevada, Texas and Vermont. The Washington state Legislature just sent a ban bill to the governor’s desk. At least 33 states and the District of Columbia regulate the use of tanning facilities by minors.
An arm of the World Health Organization recently suggested that policymakers consider enacting measures that would prohibit minors and discourage young adults from using indoor tanning facilities “to protect the general population from possible additional risk for melanoma.”