KANSAS CITY — Kansas and Missouri lawmakers have joined the national debate on whether young people should be allowed to use tanning beds that critics say sharply increase the odds of getting skin cancer.
In Kansas, legislators are considering a measure that bans minors from indoor tanning, while their counterparts in Missouri are considering a bill to require anyone under 17 to get a parent's permission before tanning.
"It's a very, very important public health issue," Kansas Rep. David Crum, an Augusta Republican and chair of the House health committee, told The Kansas City Star.
Public health advocates have been sounding the alarms for years about the risks associated with indoor tanning and added exposure to ultraviolet light, especially among teenagers.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that those who use tanning beds before age 35 have a 59 percent higher chance of contracting melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer.
Six states ban indoor tanning for anyone under 18, and legislation is pending in a seventh to do the same thing. At least 33 states regulate tanning for minors.
Salon owners in both Kansas and Missouri said they already take safety precautions for their customers and that government pressure is getting too heavy-handed.
"I can get really mad about the whole situation," said Terri Wheeler, owner of the Sun Scene salon in Raymore, Mo. "I think that the government is overstepping their bounds. It's up to the parents to parent. It's not up to the government to parent the children."
In Kansas, salons like Bask Tanning in Bonner Springs already are regulated and must be licensed. There are 500 licensed tanning salons in Kansas, including 45 in Johnson County and 10 in Wyandotte County.
Lori Chapman, owner of Bask Tanning, said a ban for minors would be a setback for her salon because about 40 percent of her clients are teens. She said she already requires parents' permission for clients under 18.
"By no means is it going to put me out of business, but it will definitely hurt my bottom line," Chapman said.
Howard Terry, owner of Electric Sun in Lenexa and Gardner, Kan., questioned how far lawmakers are willing to go on the tanning issue.
"Are they going to legislate how long somebody is allowed to hang out at the pool?" he asked.
Missouri has no state laws or regulations for tanning salons, which was highlighted in a study at Washington University in St. Louis.
The study, led by dermatologists at the school, found that 65 percent of the 243 businesses surveyed would allow someone under 13 to tan. Employees at 43 percent of the businesses said there was no risk associated with indoor tanning.
The Kansas bill was the idea of Joshua Mammen, a surgical oncologist at the University of Kansas Medical Center.
"We can't really change the risk for many cancers," he said. "This is one cancer where we can change the risk."