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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