LINCOLN — Two groups of survivors testified Friday before Nebraska lawmakers over a proposal to ban people younger than 18 from using commercial tanning beds.
One group represented Nebraska’s 110 or so tanning salon operators — a number they say has been cut in half by a 10 percent excise tax imposed on indoor tanning businesses three years ago. They asked members of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee not to advance a bill that could further winnow their ranks.
“If it becomes law, (Nebraska) will have the harshest standards in the country,” said Barton Bonn of Omaha, owner of Ashley Lynn’s tanning salons in Nebraska and other states. “I hate to see our industry cut off.”
Committee members also heard tearful statements from three women who have survived malignant melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. All were regular tanning customers, which they said contributed to an illness they will now fear for the rest of their lives.
“It saddens me to hear teenagers say ‘At least I’ll be tan when I’m dead,’ ” said Teresa Roddy of Omaha, a single mother who has undergone surgery and chemotherapy two times for melanoma.
The committee took no action Friday on Legislative Bill 132 after more than two hours of testimony. Ten people testified on behalf of the measure, while eight spoke against it.
Among the proponents were several dermatologists, a pediatrician and a researcher. Dr. David Watts, an Omaha dermatologist and surgeon, said studies have shown that one in four 17-year-old girls regularly uses tanning beds.
He also said an estimated 75 percent of melanomas in patients under 40 are linked to indoor tanning devices.
“The evidence is very strong, despite industry claims,” Watts said.
Others told the committee that the World Health Organization and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have classified tanning beds as carcinogenic.
Dr. Tricia Hultgren of Omaha, representing the Nebraska Dermatology Society, said U.S. doctors annually treat 3 million cases of basal cell and squamous cell cancers, which are less serious than melanoma. That figure ranks it as the fifth-most-expensive cancer treated under the Medicare program.
An opponent of the measure, Joseph Levy with the Smart Tan Educational Institute in Jackson, Mich., said that unlike tobacco, asbestos and other carcinogens, ultraviolet light is needed by humans to live, because it allows their bodies to synthesize vitamin D.
“That’s like saying water causes drowning,” he said.
He and others in the industry accused dermatologists of trying to boost their bottom lines by putting tanning salons out of business. Dermatology offices charge up to $100 or more for a light therapy session to treat severe eczema and psoriasis. The patients can get a similar treatment in a tanning salon for $10 or less.
“This is not a straightforward issue,” Levy said. “It’s a competition issue.”
Finally, he told the committee that the studies often cited by the medical community are twisted and misinterpreted.
He said the National Cancer Institute has reported that melanoma rates are climbing for males over the age of 65 but are steady for young women.
Several other tanning salon owners and a woman whose daughter receives eczema treatment at a salon testified against the bill.
Omaha. Sen. Jeremy Nordquist, who introduced the bill, said he was offended by those who suggested he was trying to put tanning salons out of business. He also disputed the claim that dermatologists have launched the campaign to line their pockets.
“This is a public health issue,” he said. “We have teens battling skin cancer ... fighting for their young lives.”
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