Connecticut’s legislators are about to do something crazier than Mike Tyson’s face tattoo: create a state licensing scheme for tattoo artists.

At first glance, of course, the idea seems perfectly sensible. If my kid makes the dumb decision to get a tattoo, the parlor should at least be regulated in some way, the logic goes. Worrying about the kid is legitimate: one in three Americans under 30 have a tattoo, according to recent surveys, and the number is expected to grow.

The kid probably doesn’t realize that getting a tattoo is a health risk. One study, for example, found that having at least one tattoo nearly tripled a person’s odds of contracting hepatitis C. In fact if you don’t use injection drugs, getting a tattoo is the most likely way to get hepatitis C, too (Jafari, Copes, Baharlou, Etminan, & Buxton, 2010).

But according to the Center for Disease Control, no hepatitis C outbreaks in the US have been linked to professional tattoo parlors (Reuters, 2013). Instead, it turns out that it is dangerous to get a tattoo in prison or from a dude that advertises on Craigslist and does it out of a garage. Who knew?

Jailhouse tattooists and dudes in garages are the least likely to become properly licensed. The people that are already practicing their trade properly will bear the cost of the new regulations while the real troublemakers continue to create problems. Licensure will serve as a barrier to entry for aspiring tattoo artists as well. Rather than mitigating the risks, licensure will compound them as unlicensed artists “go underground” to ply their trade, likely with even less attentiveness to sanitation and safety.

A similar licensing effort went into effect in California in July 2012. The experience is instructive. One tattoo artist described the impact: “It just seems like California has its hands in your pockets,” he said. Another one complained that, “They’ve just created extra hoops for us to jump through. It’s fees on top of fees” (Duranty, 2013). He went on to cite “government profit” as the real motivation.

But in Connecticut, licensing is projected to be a net loss to the state. The legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis estimates that costs will be four times higher than revenue produced by the fees, which will range from $100 to $250 based on the applicant (Office of Fiscal Analysis, 2013). The CT Department of Public Health, which will be responsible for implementing the new regulations, actually opposes the bill for just this reason (Mullen, 2013).

State government already requires licenses for 241 occupations — the 15th most in the nation according to the Institute for Justice. Connecticut is one of just seven states that license tree trimmers and upholsterers, one of three that license home entertainment center installers, and the only state that licenses conveyor operators and forest workers. The Institute also found that nationally, licensing costs entrepreneurs an average of $209 in fees, one exam, and about nine months of training and education (Carpenter II, Knepper, Erickson, & Ross, 2012).

These regulations make it more difficult to live and work in Connecticut. The US Chamber of Commerce estimated in 2011 that burdensome regulations cost the state more than 12,000 jobs (US Chamber of Commerce, 2011). Instead, higher taxes and fewer job opportunities lead many people to look elsewhere for work. Chief Executive magazine reported that more than 16,000 residents moved out of state last year, one of the highest rates in the nation on a per capita basis (Chief Executive Magazine, 2013).

New regulations aren’t likely to deter people who are already doing tattoos from their garage or their jail cell; they just add another burden for everyone else. A better remedy is simply good judgment. Getting a tattoo is choosing to take a health risk. Going to a professional tattoo parlor and finding a reputable artist can reduce the risk a lot, but it is still a risk. Accepting that risk is implied every time you roll up your sleeve.

Heath W. Fahle is the Policy Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and a former Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party. Contact Heath about this article by visiting

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