TORONTO - Ontario will join other provinces in banning the use of tanning beds by minors in an effort to prevent skin cancer, years after health organizations and survivors of the deadly disease started pushing for the law.
The bill, which passed unanimously in the legislature Wednesday, will ban the sale of tanning services to youth under the age of 18 and require operators to request identification from anyone who appears to be under 25.
Cancer survivors wiped away tears at the passage of the bill, saying they'd like to see the federal government step in and institute a national ban.
Kate Neale, who was diagnosed with cancer at age 21, said she's willing to go to Ottawa to push for legislation, just as she did at Queen's Park.
"I know it's going to save lives," she said of the Ontario ban.
"I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy, especially somebody young. So it's just knowing it will save lives means the world to me."
The Harper Conservatives have promised regulations that would require all tanning beds to carry warnings about skin cancer and other potential dangers, but they haven't been finalized yet.
Health Canada regulates the sale, lease and import of tanning beds, while the provinces regulate tanning beds for commercial use.
"Of course a national solution would be preferable," said Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews.
"I think that's what the industry would prefer. But my job is to ensure the people of Ontario are protected."
Neale, 23, said she started using tanning beds at age 16, tanning three or four times a week.
She worked for three years at a tanning salon, where she was required to use the equipment three times a week. Neale said she loved her job and wanted to open her own salon.
Two months after she left her job, she was diagnosed with melanoma.
"I was really upset after working there, just knowing that I was very brainwashed and encouraging so many people to tan, like my family and my friends," she said.
Ontario's legislation prohibits ads and marketing of tanning services that target minors and sets steep fines of up to $25,000 for those who break the rules.
Operators will be required to put up government-approved signs about the ban and the health risks of tanning.
There will be an exception for medically proven light therapies, such as UVB therapy for vitiligo, which causes depigmentation of the skin.
Matthews couldn't say when the rules will come into force.
Quebec, British Columbia, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador have all passed legislation restricting the use of tanning beds by youths.
The ban is mandatory in Quebec, British Columbia and the Maritimes, but Newfoundland's has not yet taken effect. Manitoba only requires parental consent.
The Canadian Cancer Society said 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. The World Health Organization has classified ultraviolet light-emitting tanning beds as carcinogenic to humans.
"We've been fighting for this for years," said a visibly emotional Annette Cyr, who has battled cancer several times. "To finally get it passed, it meant — it's very personal for me."
There are about 30,000 to 40,000 cases of skin cancer in Ontario each year and it's continuing to rise, said Cyr, who is also chairwoman of the Melanoma Network of Canada. Other countries, such as New Zealand, are bringing in bans on minors using tanning beds.
Cancer organizations and survivors have been pushing for a ban for seven years. But it took five years — and three private member's bills from New Democrat health critic France Gelinas and former Liberal MPP Khalil Ramal — before the governing Liberals took up the cause.
They announced the legislation just over a year ago amid a growing scandal over the costly cancellation of two gas plants, which the opposition parties say was an attempt to change the channel.
Gelinas said the Liberals should have acted years ago, but she'll still celebrate the passage of the bill as a "small victory."
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