SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Across the nation, lawmakers are debating where to draw the line on young teen tanning, considering proposals that would make it illegal to expose minors to ultraviolet rays from sunlamps.
Those who support such a ban say the need is obvious. "Tanning booths, like cigarettes, cause cancer and should be off-limits to teenagers," said Dr. Brian Druker, the director of the Oregon Health and Science University's Knight Cancer Institute.
Opponents characterize such legislation as an overreaction to an exaggerated danger. "The proponents have overstated the risks," said Joseph Levy, the scientific adviser for the American Suntanning Association, who testified recently before Oregon lawmakers.
The arguments in the often drab and overcast Pacific Northwestern state mirror national discussions on the issue, as lawmakers in 25 other states consider bills that would introduce or tighten restrictions on young people tanning, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The pending legislation is in various stages around the U.S. and only a handful of bills have advanced out of their original chambers, the NCSL said. However, the broad sweep reflects what tanning opponents consider momentum just a year after California and Vermont became the first states to completely ban minors from using indoor sun booths.
More than 30 states regulate indoor tanning for minors with provisions calling for minimum-ages and parental consent, but — with the exception of California and Vermont — the rules stop short of an outright ban.
In Oregon, however, House lawmakers took a step in that direction Thursday, advancing a proposal that would bar minors from sunlamps on a 38-18 vote, with support from all Democrats and a handful of Republicans, following an hour-long debate. The bill, which allows for medical exceptions, now heads to the Democrat-controlled state Senate, where supporters say it has a good chance of passing.
Many tanning opponents point to examples such as Katie Donnar, the former Miss Indiana contestant who says years of tanning left her with an aggressive and deadly form of skin cancer — at 17 years old.
Donnar says she began indoor tanning in the sixth grade and continued throughout high school, going as often as four times a week.
"It was for vanity," said Donnar, now 21, on Wednesday. "It was for what I thought was pretty."
The prominent four-inch scar on the outside of her left leg, created by the surgery that successfully removed the melanoma tumor, has become a visible reminder of her role in the push to keep young people out of tanning beds.
"Policymakers may be the best outlet for making an impact on this," she said, adding that she supports a ban on teen tanning before lawmakers in her state.
But opponents say Donnar's example was the result of excess exposure, proving their point that responsible use is not problematic.
"The issue isn't straightforward," said Levy, who has battled lawmakers over similar legislation in several states.
"The message people need to learn is sunburn prevention," he said last month, testifying before the Oregon Health Care Committee.
Skeptical lawmakers weren't convinced, as one compared him to a tobacco industry lobbyist portrayed as a liar in the movie "Thank You for Smoking," which makes the case that cigarette-makers pushed a dangerous product without acknowledging associated health risks. Another legislator flatly accused Ley of twisting facts.