ALBANY — No one younger than 18 would be able to use commercial tanning booths in New York under a bill poised to be approved by the legislature.
The bill, which has passed in the Assembly and will likely be taken up by the Senate soon, would amend a 2012 law that, despite furious lobbying by the industry at the time, prohibited tanning salons from serving anyone under 17. In a compromise, however, 17-year-olds may legally use tanning booths if they have written parental consent.
That loophole tends to be exercised liberally at this time of year, as young people prepare for proms and summer vacations.
“Going to prom shouldn’t bring an increased risk of cancer,” said Julie Hart, New York government relations director of the Cancer Action Network. “The younger a person starts, the more exposure they have, and the greater their chances of skin cancer are later.”
The trade association representing the indoor tanning industry has warned that a ban on youth tanning in professional salons will drive teenagers to tanning beds at businesses and homes where no safety precautions are required.
If the current bill passes, prospective tanning customers will be required to submit proof of their age, and shop owners will be required to keep a record of customers’ names and age verification. The bill exempts minors’ use of ultraviolet devices used in medical treatments prescribed by physicians.
“This closes the loophole,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “Parents don’t know the dangers. . . . Young people should be protected.”
Fifteen states and the District of Columbia already ban minors from indoor tanning facilities, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In all, 42 states and the District of Columbia restrict tanning booths for minors to some extent, and some counties and cities including Chicago have their own restrictions. Australia and Brazil have national bans on tanning beds for any age.
The growing concern has appeared to spawn more spray-on tan businesses, according to legislators.
“More clients are turning to sunless options as they are entering middle age and seeing the repercussions of their sun-worshipping days, such as premature aging and skin cancer,” said Shonna Dexter, founder and director of the Association of Sunless Tanning Professionals. “In the last five years, as states have moved to prevent those under age 18 from using tanning beds, options for sunless tanning and sunless businesses have skyrocketed.”
In Albany, the bill passed in April by a bipartisan vote in the Assembly and was then unanimously approved by the Senate Health Committee. The next step would be a floor vote in the Senate, where it is expected to pass, assuming it comes up for consideration by the end of legislative session on June 20.
Unlike in past years, there has been little or no organized opposition, legislators said.
“A few years ago, I heard from the tanning salon lobby, but I haven’t heard a thing this year, so I don’t see any reason for it not to pass,” said Senate Health Committee Chairman Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City.)
State lobbying records show the trade group that had lobbied on past bills, the American Suntanning Association, hasn’t been active in Albany since 2014. The group didn’t respond to several requests for comment Tuesday. Some of the biggest tanning salons on Long Island also didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The trade group has called for a balanced approach to protect users against sunburns, and says that heredity, the presence of moles and other factors can put individuals at greater risk of skin cancer than regulated indoor tanning.
But health studies, including one by the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization, show that teenagers who expose themselves to the artificial ultraviolet radiation used in tanning beds are more susceptible to skin cancer and eye damage later in life.
“Tanning beds are the big culprit, especially this time of year, when there are proms and people want ‘base tans,’ ” said Maggie Biggane, who, together with her husband, Jack, runs the Mollie Biggane Melanoma Foundation from Garden City. The foundation runs an education campaign in school health classes nationwide and in the legislature in Albany in the name of their daughter, Mollie. She died at age 20, six months after discovering a cancerous mole on her leg that surgery, chemotherapy and radiation couldn’t stop.
“The occasions are rare,” said the bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore), “but it’s nice when you can say you are probably going to save some lives with legislation. And this is one.”