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Ontario latest province to try to ban minors from using tanning beds

03/06/2013 02:53 EST | Updated 05/06/2013 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - Ontario is the latest province to table legislation banning people under the age of 18 from using tanning beds to protect them from skin cancer.

Health Minister Deb Matthews introduced a bill Thursday that would make Ontario the seventh province to restrict the use of tanning beds by minors.

"Obviously, I would prefer a national solution," she said at Toronto's Princess Margaret Hospital, which is known for its cancer treatment programs.

"But in the absence of that, I'm delighted that we're moving ahead in Ontario."

The legislation would ban the sale of tanning services to people under the age of 18 and require operators to request identification from anyone who appears to be under 25.

The bill would also prohibit ads and marketing targeting minors and set steep fines of up to $25,000 for those who break the rules.

Operators would also be required to put up signs about the ban and the health risks of tanning, something the federal government said it would also mandate.

The only exceptions would be medically proven light therapies, such as UVB therapy for vitiligo, which causes depigmentation of the skin.

High-intensity tanning beds are more dangerous than the sun, emitting up to 15 times more ultraviolet light than the midday sun, said Susan Cox, a skin cancer patient.

The 50-year-old Toronto decorator started using tanning beds at the age of 16 and was diagnosed at 42 with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

She's cancer-free now after several painful surgeries and drug therapy, Cox said. But she still has trouble going near a tanning salon.

"I want to run in and tell the young girl behind the counter to run and save herself," she said. "I want to tell the customers that tans fade, being sick is scary, surgeries hurt, scars are ugly, and cancer sucks."

The World Health Organization has classified tanning bed radiation into its highest carcinogenic risk category, along with smoking and asbestos. Tanning can also create a natural high that can become addictive, said Cox.

"We don't allow minors cigarettes, asbestos, arsenic, heroin, cocaine or methamphetamines," Cox said.

"Why would we allow them to contract melanoma? It's completely preventable."

It's important to focus on youth because the risk of skin cancer increases by 75 per cent when tanning beds are used before age 35, said Joanne Di Nardo of the Canadian Cancer Society, which has been pushing for a ban for seven years.

"Absolutely it will save lives," she said.

But it took five years — and three private member's bills from New Democrat France Gelinas and former Liberal MPP Khalil Ramal — before the governing Liberals took up the cause.

The minority government will need support from at least one of the opposition parties to pass the bill, which will likely come from the NDP.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she wants to see the legislation first, but it's a cause her party has supported for years. The Opposition Conservatives said they want to see the bill first too.

"If it's substantially the same bill as what we've been pushing for the last five years, then I'll be glad to see it move forward," Horwath said.

Quebec, British Columbia, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador have all either introduced or enacted legislation restricting the use of tanning beds by youth.

The Joint Canadian Tanning Association, which represents salons, said they're disappointed that Ontario is bringing in the legislation.

Professional salons already have age-based restrictions and educate their workers, it said. Teenagers make up between two to five per cent of salon sales.

"JCTA salons have long instituted standards which restrict access for youth, unfortunately due to the actions of a few bad apples within our industry who do not share the JCTA's commitment to client protection, the government has felt the need to respond," president Doug McNabb said in a release.

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