What will it take to regulate sunbeds, asks Sue
Since the great wave of deregulation in the '90s, when
successive governments tossed out laws with gay abandon,
regulation has been unfashionable in New Zealand.
The word ''regulation'' has become almost a term of abuse,
implying excessive government interference in people's lives.
Government policy stipulates that regulation should be used
only as a last resort, and almost any attempt to regulate is
ridiculed as ''Nanny state''.
This explains why industries that pose a potential risk to
public health, such as the medical device industry,
tattooists, acupuncturists, sunbed operators and cosmetic
laser operators, have never been regulated.
Governments don't want to be seen to ''meddle'' in these
industries, and prefer the hands-off, laissez-faire approach
You would have hoped that the spectacular failures of
deregulation - a $40 billion leaky home crisis, the financial
crisis, Pike River, to name but a few - would have prompted a
major rethink, and that governments would now be happy to
regulate where self-regulation has manifestly failed, or
where there is a significant risk to public health and
But the Government seems as reluctant as ever to regulate -
unless absolutely forced to, by a Royal Commission on Pike
River, for example.
I am assuming that is why it has failed to respond to
repeated calls to regulate the sunbed industry, and has left
it to one of its backbench MPs, Dr Paul Hutchison, to draw up
a private member's Bill to regulate the sunbed industry (and
cosmetic laser operators).
I applaud Dr Hutchison for his initiative. But it begs the
question; if the industry is in need of regulation, as he
claims, why doesn't his Government simply get on with it and
introduce regulation forthwith? Why wait for a private
member's Bill that may never be selected from the ballot, and
which, even if it was, could take two to three years to get
through Parliament? This is especially the case when you
consider that failure to regulate the industry for another
two to three years could result in thousands of New
Zealanders - especially young teenage girls - being exposed
to a significantly increased risk of skin cancer and
This may sound melodramatic, but it's true. The evidence
linking the use of sunbeds to increased risk of skin cancer
and melanoma has been piling up.
Three years ago, the International Agency for Research on
Cancer categorised the ultraviolet radiation from sun-beds in
its highest risk of cancer-causing agents (along with
asbestos, tobacco and arsenic), as carcinogenic to humans.
It says the use of sunbeds increases the risk of developing a
melanoma by 20%.
If sunbed use starts before age 30, the risk increases by
It has called on all governments to regulate sunbed use - and
many have done so, including Scotland, England, Wales,
Brazil, France, Sweden and some Australian states.
Yet in New Zealand these machines (and there are thousand of
them, in gyms, hairdressing salons, tanning clinics and
people's homes) are completely unregulated. There is no limit
on the amount of ultraviolet radiation that can be used, and
no limit either around maximum exposure times. There is no
standard training for operators, and many unqualified staff
operate these machines.
Sure, there is a voluntary standard that says that no-one
with pale skin or who is under 18 should use them. But
successive surveys by Consumer New Zealand have found the
standard is being widely flouted in the industry.
Just three out of 30 clinics in a recent Consumer NZ survey,
for example, turned away a person with very fair skin.
So what will it take for the Government to step in and
regulate the sunbed industry and make the voluntary standard
mandatory?New Zealand has the highest melanoma rates in the
world, and about 300 New Zealanders die each year from
Self-regulation has manifestly failed, and the continued,
unregulated use of sunbeds poses a serious threat to public
Hundreds of young women are using sunbeds, oblivious to the
risks they are exposing themselves to. One woman confided in
a recent kiwiblog that she was addicted to sunbeds, and had
used them every second day for several years, before she
realised the risks they posed.
So instead of sitting around waiting for a private member's
Bill to be drawn from the ballot, surely it's time for the
Government to overcome its aversion to regulation, and
• Sue Kedgley is a former Greens MP.