Why Don’t We Take Tanning as Seriously as Tobacco?

Sherry Pagoto

By Sherry Pagoto, PhD

In 2009, upon review of the science on tanning beds and cancer, the International Agency for Research on Cancer assigned tanning beds a class 1 carcinogen, joining tobacco and asbestos in the highest classification of harm. In spite of this development, skin cancer rates have steadily climbed over the last 3 decades. Rising prevalence is seen especially in young women, with an 8-fold increase since 1970. Melanoma, the deadly form of skin cancer is now the most common cancer in young adults aged 25-29. Skin cancer is hitting young women especially hard because they are the heaviest users of tanning beds. Recent statistics reveal that 19% of teens and over half of university students have used tanning beds. The risk of indoor tanning to population health has even exceeded that of tobacco. One study reported that the number of cases of skin cancer attributable to indoor tanning (~450,000) now exceeds the number of cases of lung cancer attributable to smoking (~360,000). This epidemic comes with a price tag, with annual costs for skin cancer treatment in the US now exceeding $8 billion a year and increasing at a rate 5 times faster than other cancers.

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