Each year nearly 10,000 Americans die from melanoma, and in Maine an estimated 450 will be diagnosed with melanoma this year. This form of skin cancer — despite being one of the most preventable — is striking young people at an alarming rate: melanoma is now the fourth most common cancer among people aged 15-29.

I recently visited my dermatologist and had two suspicious skin spots removed. As he began his treatment, he asked me: Have you ever had a blistering sunburn? (Yes). Have you ever used a tanning device? (Thankfully, no). Clearly, the answers to these questions mattered. And in this day and age, I felt irresponsible that I actually, at one time, had a blistering sun burn.

I was a teenager growing up in the Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Oil era. And in that era, baby oil was used to get some fast color from a day at the beach. As teenagers, we would poke our finger into our skin and compare who was getting the best color. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. Years later, it would be determined that baby oil was not safe for tanning. Today, I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that thought that was a good idea.

Today, what has come to light is the high risks of developing skin cancer from using tanning devices. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, young people who use indoor tanning devices before age 35, increase their risk of melanoma cancer by over 50 percent; women younger than 30 are six times more likely to develop melanoma if they tan indoors. Knowing this information should be enough to stop anyone from using a tanning device. But it doesn’t.

While we’ve taken steps to protect minors from the dangers of cigarettes and alcohol by placing restrictions on access, it’s time we do the same for indoor tanning. That’s why a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, doctors, melanoma patients and survivors, and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) have banded together to support for L.D. 889, An Act to Reduce Youth Cancer Risk, which would prohibit tanning device use for individuals under 18.

Some may ask: Why does it matter to me? They argue that people should have free choice. Consider this: Affordable health insurance and affordable health care are top of mind today — and we all are paying the price. When my clients apply for life insurance coverage, I tell them: your insurance premium will be lower when you engage in less risky behavior. When it comes to cancer protection, the American Journal of Medicine states the facts: 62 percent of bankruptcies were due to illness. Cancer causes bankruptcy. And when people are bankrupt, it costs taxpayers money. If we truly want to address the cost of health care, we need to act responsibly. This bill is being introduced to force the tanning industry to be responsible, because they have chosen not to, on their own.

Over time, we have come to learn that a hot little tan is not all that it is cracked up to be. In fact, it can be deadly. It’s time for the beauty industry to redefine beauty.

Testimony from a recent public hearing on this bill, along with personal experience, makes it clear that the combination of teens and indoor tanning can be deadly. Now is the time to change the behaviors and attitudes about tanning devices among youth and their parents. I urge my colleagues in the legislature to join me in protecting Maine’s youth from a potentially deadly melanoma diagnosis, by supporting L.D. 889, and prohibiting Mainers under 18 from using indoor tanning devices.

Karen Vachon, a Republican, represents Scarborough in the Maine House of Representatives.

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