Tanning beds first arrived in the United States in 1978, and their design has not changed much since then. They contain a special blend of phosphors that bombard users with a combination of UVA and UVB ultraviolet radiation. This wavelength of light does two things. First, it stimulates a golden, glowing tan that will turns heads at the beach. Second, it causes melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer.
It’s no secret that tanning beds are dangerous. Recent studies have found that the risk for skin cancer increases by 75% for those who regularly use tanning beds, a statistic so worrisome that it has compelled the World Health Organization to classify the products in their highest cancer risk category. In 1988 the government began to regulate the beds at a federal level, primarily with restrictions on exposure times, variations between brands, and compulsory labeling of their dangerous side effects. Several states have issued their own guidelines since then.
All this information begs a comparison with the tobacco industry. Both cigarettes and tanning beds are products that can cause cancer, and both have been markets as tools to improve one’s quality of life. Should the salon industry, then, expect impending, successful lawsuits?
Probably not. When individuals have sued tobacco companies for selling dangerous products, the companies have responded, successfully, that the pruchase of the product is an individual choice. To get around this argument, plaintiffs have claimed, again successfully, that cigarettes are so addictive that it isn’t a choice to buy them. This argument, while persuasive and backed up by science for cigarettes, fails to apply to tanning beds; we all like looking tan, but we don’t go through symptoms of withdrawal without it.
Furthermore, the fact that the tanning industry has been so closely regulated since its inception has helped stave off lawsuits. For tobacco companies, the laws applying to their product have constantly changed over the years; for tanning salons, the rules of the game were set from the very beginning. Therefore the tanning industry has been able to more conscientiously adhere to regulations and pre-emptively avoid any possible unlawful activity.
The lesson? Use tanning beds at your own risk. If you do end up with cancer, you’ll need more than a lawyer to save your bronzed, gleaming skin.