AUGUSTA — To slap on some sunscreen at school in Maine, students are required to bring in a note from a parent, a guardian or their doctor.

That may change if lawmakers agree that preventing skin cancer is more important than supervising its use as an over-the-counter medicine regulated by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

The proposed bill, unanimously endorsed Wednesday by the Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs, would clear the way for students to possess and use sunscreen on school property without first securing permission from a parent or physician.

Rep. Vicki Doudera

It’s a way to keep children safer, said one of the measure’s sponsors, Rep. Vicki Doudera, D-Camden.

“This is not a complex piece of legislation that requires extensive debate,” she told colleagues. “Instead, it is a simple bill that will help to alleviate a complex health concern.”

Lawmakers on the committee found no reason to leave the longstanding existing policy in place.

“I don’t see why it would be a problem for a kid to use sunscreen,” said Sen. Matthew Pouliot, R-Augusta.

Pouliot said he used to get headaches as a child that required him to take ibuprofen at the school nurse’s office. A similar provision for sunscreen, he said, “doesn’t make sense to me.”

“It just doesn’t pass the straight-face test that a kid would have to go to the nurse’s office to get a cup of sunscreen,” Pouliot said.

At least 18 states have already taken steps to clear the way for student use of sunscreen, starting with California in 2002. In the past few years, urged on by groups devoted to fighting cancer, states from Florida to Washington have followed suit.

With the committee’s backing in hand, the bill heads next to the House and Senate.

Using sunscreen is a key way to avoid exposure to dangerous ultraviolet radiation, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Dr. David Scaccia, who practices in Kittery, said that nearly 5 million people in the United States are treated each year for skin cancer, which “can be serious, expensive and sometimes even deadly.”

Sen. Cathy Breen

Even a single bad sunburn in childhood doubles the risk of skin cancer later in life, he told lawmakers.

But only 11 percent of students use sunscreen regularly, experts said.

“It seems to me we should be doing all we can to encourage all people, especially young people, to protect themselves,” said Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth.

“As a mother, I support laws that keep our kids safe by requiring them to bring verification to school if they take a prescription drug,” Breen said. “However, I do not believe that this requirement should apply to sunscreen.”

She said she hopes legislators “will see this bill as a common-sense measure to correct an oversight and allow kids to put on sunscreen at school.”

For Doudera, the issue is personal.

She said that six years ago, she “spotted a tiny black mark on my stomach which turned out to be melanoma.”

Her surgeon told her she possessed many of the risk factors, from blond hair and blue eyes to “a youth spent lifeguarding at our local beach and a childhood in which I endured many sunburns.”

Doudera said that between 1982 and 2011, melanoma rates in the country have doubled. And they’ve continued to rise, she added.

“This bill offers an opportunity to turn back these troubling statistics,” Doudera said.

“By allowing public school students to apply sunscreen at school, this legislation ensures that parents can take all measures possible to keep their children safe from the harmful impacts of UV exposure,” Doudera said.

Hilary Schneider, the Maine director of government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said about 510 Mainers will be diagnosed this year with melanoma.

She said its rate is higher than the national average and that its rising number of cases is bucking the general trend in the Northeast.

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