Christine Stuart photo
Tommy Kelleher and Karen Bentlage at the Capitol (Christine Stuart photo)

In an effort to head off legislation, the Indoor Tanning Association said Thursday that it will implement new procedures for use of their sunbeds by teenage clients.

Under the new protocol minors under the age of 16 will only be permitted to use sunbeds with a physician’s referral. Sixteen- to 17-year-olds may use sunbeds with the written consent from a parent or guardian. The voluntary measures have been adopted by at least 100 tanning salons across the state.

Tommy Kelleher, who owns 14 Tommy’s Tanning salons in Connecticut, said the new protocols that are posted in each of his stores go well beyond the current law that requires parental consent for minors under the age of 16.

Last year, the Public Health Committee failed to pass legislation that would impose a $100 fine on any tanning facility worker who allowed someone under the age of 18 to use a sunbed.

It’s unclear if the legislation will come up again this year, but Nancy Alderman, president of a group called Environment and Human Health Inc., said the industry tried the same tactic last year.

She said voluntarily allowing the industry to police itself is “no way to protect minors from melanoma.” She said lawmakers don’t voluntarily ask minors not to buy cigarettes, which also cause cancer.

The American Cancer Society cites studies finding that people who use indoor tanning beds are 69 percent more likely to experience an early onset of skin cancer. That’s why the legislature passed a bill in 2006 banning their use for people under 16 without parental consent.

But since then there have been unsuccessful efforts to institute a ban for anyone under the age of 18. Last year’s bill was referred to the Public Health Committee where it received a public hearing, but was never voted out of committee.

Rep. Betsy Ritter, D-Waterford, former Public Health Committee co-chairwoman, said in December that she would like to see a ban passed during this year’s legislative session. However, she’s no longer chair of the committee.

The new co-chair of the Public Health Committee is Rep. Susan Johnson. She met with Alderman on Thursday. She said the committee will be considering dozens of pieces of legislation that failed to make it to the floor last year.

“We look at everything that comes before us,” Johnson said Thursday. If the bill banning minors under the age of 18 is raised again she said the committee will look at the science and talk to all interested parties.

Karen Bentlage of Future Industries in Milford, which supplies tanning stores with tanning supplies and equipment, said parents have the right to choose whether their child can tan and to take that right away is just “silly.”

She said as a parent she could have a 14 year old daughter who could terminate a pregnancy in this state without her knowledge or consent.

She said in the tanning industry parents have the right to consent to treatment, some of which is medically prescribed for patients with eczema, acne, and psoriasis.

She said there seems to be a misconception about the teenage population that tans. She said generally 16- to 17-year-olds make up less than 5 percent of a tanning salons business.

“It’s much lower than you think,” Bentlage said.

Kelleher said a lot of his clients are older and despite the misconception that the client base is dominated by women there has been an increase in men using tanning salons. He maintained that his client base is “not the ‘Tanning Mom’.”

Think about it this way, Kelleher said, even if the indoor tanning industry didn’t exist there’s no ability for lawmakers to take away the sun or the beach.

He said when clients come into his salon the amount of time they spend there is regulated and based on their skin type. He said they don’t permit people with very fair skin, who normally can’t get a tan from the sun, to tan at their facilities. He said they educate them and tell them if they can’t tan in the sun then the sunbed isn’t going to work either.

Alderman argues that the science is indisputable. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report in May which found indoor tanning before age 35 increases the risk for melanoma by 75 percent.

Last year, the committee heard from people who used tanning beds in the past and have been diagnosed with cancer. That was the case for Lauren Hurd of Hamden.

“Throughout college, I tanned regularly with my friends until age 22 when I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. I am now 25 years old and it has been three and a half years since I was told I had the deadliest form of skin cancer,” she said.

Hurd said prior to being diagnosed, she felt addicted to tanning having formed a psychological dependence on it.

“The immediate results of tanning are that you get a nice glow and are happy with the way you look. The negative repercussions seem like some vague possibility that could present itself far in the future. However, I am here to stress the fact that this is an imminent threat to our youth,” she said.

Ritter said legislation next year should include a ban but may also need to address enforcement. Currently, tanning salons that violate the ban on minors under 16 can be fined up to $100. But enforcement is left up to local health departments or districts.

Hugh McQuaid contributed to this report.