Nzers' love affair with sunbeds heating up

An increase in New Zealand's indoor tanning services, despite evidence of their potential skin cancer risk, has prompted calls for industry regulation.

A study by Otago University researchers found that between 1992 and 2006 there was a 241 percent increase in businesses advertising some form of indoor tanning service in the Yellow Pages telephone directories.

There was also a 525 percent increase in the number of wholesale providers to the industry.

Tony Reeder, director of the university's Cancer Society social and behavioural research unit, said there was growing evidence linking use of indoor cosmetic tanning equipment with an increased risk of skin cancer, and melanoma in particular.

"The substantial growth we found in indoor tanning facilities and services is likely to still underestimate the true size of the industry," he said.

"Some services are offered without being advertised in the Yellow Pages, such as those at some hotels and motels."

Another researcher, Janet Jopson, said there were good arguments for regulatory controls to strengthen existing voluntary guidelines for sun beds.

Sunbeds could emit ultraviolet radiation as much as 36 times stronger than the summer midday sun and recent research indicated potential serious health risks, especially for those less than 35 years of age and women, she said.

"There has also been evidence of irresponsibility among some New Zealand industry providers."

Australian states had legislation and it was an ideal time for New Zealand authorities to collaborate with those drafting the Australian legislation.

Ms Jopson said that in some Australian states there were restrictions on age and those with fair skins, and clinics must display health warnings.

Chris Birmingham, manager of Auckland's MegaSun, which distributes tanning beds and operates clinics, welcomed the idea of proper regulation, and said the association would try to get voluntary compliance within the industry.

Tanning clinic operators and sun bed suppliers were in the throes of setting up the Indoor Tanning  Association of New Zealand.

"We know we have to do something to get the industry working properly. We want to make sure people aren't tanning incorrectly."

His company imposed a weekly maximum of three sessions (12 minutes for lying down or 8 minutes for stand up treatments) and age controls.

He said previous claims against sunbeds were based on a 1990 study, but tanning beds were now far more advanced and could control the amount of UV.

Mr Birmingham also said there had not been a single case in the United States of anybody suing anyone for getting cancer from a sunbed, which was a good indicator of their safety.

People were using sunbeds to stimulate a more natural protection against the sun, he said.

Karl Bolliger, owner of Wellington's Tan 4 You, agreed that some regulations were needed but said it was "stupid" to link sunbeds with skin cancer. "The problem here is the sun."

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