AUGUSTA – The Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would prohibit anyone younger than 18 from using an indoor tanning booth.
The 19-16 vote brings the measure to Gov. Paul LePage, who hasn’t taken a position on the bill but is expected to veto it. The Maine House gave the bill preliminary approval on an 82-63 vote last week. If the bill is enacted, Maine would become the fifth state to ban indoor tanning by minors.
Democrats in both chambers supported the bill, passing it along party lines.
Proponents likened the ban to regulations on tobacco and alcohol, saying the prohibition was needed to reduce the risk of skin cancer. Some medical experts argue that indoor tanning exposes users to a greater intensity of ultraviolet rays, thus increasing the risk of melanoma.
New York, California and Vermont already have bans on the books. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, signed legislation Monday that prohibits anyone under 17 from using tanning beds and anyone under 14 from getting a spray tan.
The New Jersey bill allows 17-year-olds to use tanning salons if a parent or guardian accompanies them on their first visit.
Christie’s move was noted by Democratic lawmakers in Maine, who hoped to persuade Republicans to support the ban, L.D. 272, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Geoffrey Gratwick, a physician from Bangor.
The Democratic effort didn’t work. Senate Republicans on Wednesday maintained that the bill was a “nanny-state” measure that overrode parental discretion.
Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, said the bill should have been named the “Parents are not capable of raising their children act of 2013.” Katz said the measure was a slippery slope that effectively let parents off the hook.
Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, disagreed, arguing that policymakers had previously passed measures to prohibit tobacco and alcohol use in the name of public health.
Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, said public health legislation made sense. She cited regulations requiring the use of seat belts, speed limits and age requirements to buy alcohol and cigarettes.
Currently, 33 states regulate the use of indoor tanning beds. Eleven states are contemplating bans for people under 18.
In Maine, teenagers between the ages of 14 and 18 can now visit a tanning booth with a parent’s permission, while those under age 14 are prohibited from using booths. State law also requires tanning facilities to disclose the risks of indoor tanning.
Republicans argued that there hasn’t been enough time to evaluate the effectiveness of the current law.
The new measure is backed by several 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, the second most common type of cancer among people age 15 to 29, according to the American Cancer Society.
Medical groups testified that indoor tanning before the age of 35 increases the risk of skin cancer by 75 percent.
Steve Mistler can be contacted at 630-7016 or at: