Why solariums must be regulated

Tuesday 28 August, 2007

Craig Sinclair 

Few stories are as compelling nor as heartfelt as Clare Oliver's. Aat the young age of 25, Clare  has melanoma and struggled to celebrate her 26th birthday., Clare feels her use of solariums has contributed to this.

A decade ago we would have laughed at the suggestion that in a country with the highest skin cancer rates in the world, there would be a burgeoning solarium industry that has grown at a rate of almost six hundred percent in the last decade. The net affect of this growth is that solarium owners need customers to make their business profitable, and they're not going to get customers if they tell them that solarium exposure is not only bad for your health but that it can kill you. 

It's alarming that we are seeing solariums setting up near schools, trying to attract students who have not reached sufficient maturity to judge what is good for their health. We know that young people, including schoolgirls in uniform, are gaining easy access to solariums without any controls.  Research undertaken by The Cancer Council Victoria has consistently shown that the solarium industry has limited capacity to follow their own voluntary code of practice. Our research showed that 50% of teenagers who were younger than 17 were allowed access without parental permission and 90% of adults with a skin type that doesn't allow them to tan were given access to solariums. Both these examples contravene the solarium industry's own standards. 

With competition becoming more fierce amongst solariums, in the last couple of years offers of unlimited sessions for a fixed price have burgeoned. The number of unsupervised solariums in gyms and even laundrettes is rising. Both of these practices are adding fuel to the skin cancer epidemic.

The evidence is very clear that sunbed exposure contributes to the risk of melanoma.  Only this year the International Agency for Cancer Research, the peak international research agency in cancer, published a report that showed that anyone who used a solarium under the age of thirty five increased their risk of melanoma by 75%.  If there is any reason to restrict access to young people then this evidence should clearly be enough.

The World Health Organization has made a clear recommendation that governments should consider comprehensive legislation in relation to sunbed use.  According to the World Health Organisation, legislation should restrict access to those under the age of 18, ensure warning notices are placed in all cubicles and in the foyer area of solarium establishments and importantly ban the use of any unsupervised solarium operations. 

So far no state or federal government has implemented legislation to control sunbed use.  Fortunately the Victorian Government has been responsive to this issue and Health Minister Daniel Andrews has announced the industry will be governed by regulations. He is to be commended for having the courage to move quickly. Hopefully other states and territories can follow this lead.

Clare Oliver should be proud that her public comments about her very private battle have sent a clear warning to many and will undoubtedly save others from being in a similar tragic situation.

Let's hope that this is a wake up call to the solarium industry, clean up your act, or clear out.

Craig Sinclair is the Director of the Cancer Education Unit at The Cancer Council Victoria. He is the author of the World Health Organization's guidelines on artificial tanning sunbeds.