News reports from Australia highlight the difficulties in enforcing tanning bed restrictions and underline the need for strong, national support for public education on the dangers of unprotected UVR exposure.
New regulations introduced in May, 2009 under the Australian Radiation Control Act prohibit children under 18 and people with very fair skin from using tanning beds or what the Australians call solariums. The regulations also require solarium operators display proper warnings about the risks of ultraviolet radiation exposure, limit the amount and frequency of solarium use, provide protective eyewear and ensure proper supervision. (One of the major concerns in regulations being considered in the UK are the number of coin operated tanning beds where there is no supervision.)
A government audit of 89 solarium businesses found that 98% of operators failed to comply with the new regulations. The findings were called appalling by the Minister of Health.
Last year, the World Health Organization placed tanning beds in the highest cancer-risk category alongside smoking and asbestos. In 2007, the Queensland Institute for Medical Research found that people younger than 35 who used a tanning bed increased their risk of developing melanoma by 98 percent. These findings prompted the tough new regulations in Australia which has waged a vigorous war against skin cancer for decades.
The good news is that although it appears that businesses are not complying with the new regulations, Australians are beginning to avoid tanning. The same report detailing the level of compliance showed a thirty percent reduction in tanning bed usage in Australia since the new regulations were adopted.
The Australian report proves that an informed public is a proactive public. That is, despite non-compliance by business, an educated Australian public is moving away from this dangerous practice. Broad, sustained and on-going public education is the best hope for combating the epidemic of skin cancer.