AUGUSTA — With overwhelming support from Democrats, the House of Representatives gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a bill that would prohibit anyone younger than 18 from using a tanning booth at a salon or similar business.

If approved by the entire Legislature and signed by Gov. Paul LePage, the bill would make Maine only the fourth state to ban indoor tanning by minors. New York, California and Vermont already have bans on the books.

Currently teenagers between the ages of 14 and 18 can visit a tanning booth with a parent’s permission. The new bill, L.D. 272, sponsored by Sen. Geoffrey Gratwick, D-Bangor, would ban visits altogether.

Following a spirited debate, the House voted 82-63, largely on party lines, to pass the measure. Democrats said the ban was necessary to reduce the risk of skin cancer, while Republicans said the bill effectively overrode parental discretion.

“I don’t want to be the parent of 1.3 million people,” said Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington, during the floor debate.

Democrats argued that minors were greatly exposed to tanning risks and need to be protected. They compared the bill to regulations on tobacco and alcohol.

Rep. Linda Sanborn, D-Gorham, a former family physician, said she knew a family whose son died from melanoma at age 27. The man, Sanborn said, was an occasional user of tanning beds, particularly before a high school prom.

“Even minimal exposure from tanning beds greatly increases a young person’s risk for developing melanoma,” said Sanborn. “No prom is worth that kind of risk.”

The 124th Legislature passed rules that required parental consent in order for minors to use a tanning salon. Those under 14 were prohibited from tanning. Additionally, it required minors to show parental consent and tanning facilities to disclose the dangers and warnings of indoor tanning.

Republicans argued Tuesday that there hasn’t been enough time to evaluate the effectiveness of that law.

Democrats countered that the new measure is backed by a host of groups, including the Maine Medical Association and American Cancer Society Action Network. During the bill’s public hearing, those groups noted that studies have linked tanning bed use to increased UV radiation and melanoma.

Melanoma is the second most common type of cancer among people age 15 to 29, according to the American Cancer Society. Medical groups testified during the public hearing that indoor tanning before the age of 35 increases the risk of skin cancer by 75 percent.

The American Academy of Pediatrics in 2011 said that anyone younger than 18 should be banned from tanning salons because of the risk of skin cancer.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has previously considered such an age restriction, which has been recommended by the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Dermatology.

Opponents of the law included operators of tanning salons, who argued that the bill was anti-business.

A study published in 2009 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine said Portland ranked fourth nationwide for the most tanning salons per capita. The study identified 16 salons in the city at the time.

Suzanne Howard, an employee of Sun Tan City, testified before the Health and Human Services Committee that there was little difference between indoor tanning and natural sun exposure.

“This is the right of a parent and no other,” Howard testified. “. . . Consider the business owners who are already struggling in a frail economy, trying to keep their businesses alive and not send any employees to the state’s growing unemployment line.”

Rep. Richard Malaby, R-Hancock, said the bill was an overreach of government.

“I wonder when this House will vote to block out the sun,” he said during Tuesday’s floor debate.

During the public hearing, Gratwick said the bill was about prevention.

“What I am asking is that we ask tanning salon owners to accept a good business practice to protect children and adolescents from harm until they reach age 18,” he said. “There are many other instances where we apply this standard; limits on the sale of tobacco is one example, alcohol another.”

Currently, 33 states regulate the use of indoor tanning beds. Eleven states are contemplating bans for people under 18.

The Maine legislation would not apply to spray tanning or tanning devices used at home.

The bill will face another vote in the House and the Senate before it’s enacted.

This story has been updated to note that New York also prohibits minors from commercial tanning. 

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:
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