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Tanning Beds and Legal Liability

Remember that Friends episode “The One with Ross’ Tan”?  It was funny back then seeing an orange Ross with too much of an artificial tan, but lately the talk surrounding indoor tanning beds has become gravely serious.

Recent reports indicate that the lights used in tanning beds are a definite, rather than a probable cause of melanoma, a type of skin cancer.  Studies confirm what has been suspected for decades now; that indoor tanning beds can be dangerous to your health.

Tanning beds are being touted as “the new cigarettes of our age”, with statements being made comparing to as carcinogens such as arsenic and mustard gas.  Tanning has also been shown to pump up endorphin levels, which is linked to addictive behavior, and thus the Marlboro metaphor.

The studies have led to significant responses in the field of regulation as concerned citizens everywhere gear up for class action lawsuits aimed at the tanning industry.

The FDA has recently considered imposing tougher warning requirements for tanning beds, citing a lack of notice to consumers of the dangers involved in exposure to ultraviolet light being emitted from the beds.  Congress recently initiated a bill called the “Tanning Bed Cancer Control Act” (see the text here).  This Act proposes limits on the amount of UV rays emitted from the beds, as well limits on the amount of time that tanners can spend in the machines.

Even Obama’s newly passed health care reform act includes a 10% excise tax on indoor tanning services.  I have to admit, when I first learned of this provision in the reform act, I dismissed it as a somewhat random tidbit of legislation trivia.  But given all the recent data on tanning and melanoma, it makes a bit more sense now.  After all, what’s the best way to prevent American citizens from engaging in any given activity?  Tax it!

There is much talk about class action suits being filed regarding these matters.  But aside from the usual indoor tanning lawsuits involving peepholes and people getting caught in flaming tanning beds, surprisingly enough, we haven’t seen too many suits in the past involving melanoma claims, let alone class action suits.

One case in 2006 involved a class action suit against Hollywood Tans, wherein members of the suit alleged that the tanning company failed to provide adequate warnings regarding the dangers of indoor tanning.  In that suit, however, the plaintiffs weren’t seeking recovery for personal injuries such as melanoma, but rather compensation for the money they spent in the salons.  So at this point it may be a bit hard to tell how class actions suits will fare in this situation, especially since the reports are so new.

But given the success in tobacco class action litigation, tanning/melanoma lawsuits might do well if indeed they truly are like cigarettes.  Personally I think the discussion actually is starting to sound a bit more like the discussion on drugs if you ask me.  There have been talks about instituting educational programs similar to D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) to instill the dangers of tanning in the minds of today’s youth.  And, similar to the interplay between race and drug crime sentencing, many are outraged at Obama’s health care excise tax on indoor tanning, claiming that it discriminates against white people.  Perhaps the tanning industry will defend itself by arguing that people are abusing their beds as they crave their daily “fix” of tanning juice.

Many people do not realize exactly how massive and far-reaching the tanning industry is.  On an average day, over 1 million Americans engage in indoor tanning.  And don’t forget, the entire tanning industry involves not just the beds but also tanning lotions, indoor sprays a la Ross, and other products.  It also touches other areas of commerce such as the beach bum and bodybuilding scenes.  So, class actions could potentially be levied at more than just tanning beds.

That all being said, experts project that it’s only a matter of time before the class actions start going for the gold, or in this case, the golden bronze.

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  • autumn smith

    my 29 year old daughter was recently diagnosed with melanoma. she spent 10ish years tanning in tanning beds about 3 or 4 times per week…she did not sun bathe as this took too long and was so dangerous. the tanning salons, of course, told us this was so much safer than the sun. so now, at 29, she is dealing with this and it is quite traumatic. we have no family history of skin cancer on either side of the family, as a matter of fact, aside from prostate cancer, there is no evidence whatsoever of cancer in our families. tanning salons need to stop with the false info they give out. my daughter and our family will deal with this the rest of our lives and it is scary as hell. please advise if you can.
    thank you for your time.
    Deborah Smith

    had excision done on 12-13-2010 and are waiting on new pathology report. doc believed possibly in situ from biopsy but then told us it was probably stage 1 due to possible superficial invasion.

  • Julie Nicholson

    I have been a tanning bed user on and off since my teen years and was diagnosed with Melanoma at age 36 ! It has left me with ugly physical scares but took a major emotional toll on me and my family ! I hope one day tanning beds will be outlawed but until then i pray the word gets out about the dangerous effects !

  • Jay

    Yes, many states have already outlawed tanning bed use, specifically for minors.

    @autumn smith: You may want to check the specific laws of your state to see what they say about tanning bed liability, especially for minors and young people. They are different by state and there are various restrictions for use but you’d have to see what your specific jurisdiction says.

    A good chart:

  • Pamela

    I’ve recently gone through my tenth treatment for skin cancer within the last two years. Eight of these have been Basal Cell and two have been squamous. I have ugly scars on my face, chest and arms. I’ve had numerous painful laser treatments for pre-cancerous growths. I live in fear of more skin cancers. I’ve also spent tons of money treating these. WHen I was in my thirties, I bought in to the myth that tanning beds were safer than actual sun exposure. I’m now paying a terrible price for believing misleading information. I hope and pray that tanning beds are outlawed. I believe that everything that’s told about them is a lie.

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