Sometimes you've got to protect teenagers from themselves. Or at least try to. That's why State Sen. Pat Jones, a Democrat from Holladay, wants to make it illegal for minors to visit commercial tanning beds, the kind that toast a person's skin with ultraviolet radiation.
The reason the tan ban is a good idea is as simple as sunshine itself. Use of tanning beds substantially increases the risk of skin cancer.
Kids who want a tan so that they will look luscious for the prom don't think about malignant melanoma or basel cell carcinoma, two types of skin cancer. They're focused on scoring with the opposite sex. Most likely, they won't start to worry about skin cancer until they are older. But by then it will be too late. Skin damage early in life may only manifest itself in skin cancer decades later.
Malignant melanoma, by the way, can be fatal. Other forms of skin cancer are no fun, either.
But our culture has long worshipped fun in the sun, and the tan that comes from it. Which leads to this irony: Skin cancer is largely preventable if people avoid prolonged exposure to UV radiation from either the sun or from artificial forms like tanning beds.
Lest you think that Jones' proposal is over the top, consider that nearly a quarter of all young women in Utah who are sophomores or seniors in high school used a tanning bed at least once in the past year. In the area served by the Central Utah Public Health Department, 45 percent of high school seniors had done so.
According to the National Cancer Institute, "women who use tanning beds more than once a month are 55 percent more likely to develop malignant melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer."
Utah has tried before to warn young women and men away from the dangers of tanning beds. In 2007, Jones sponsored a law that required the written permission of a parent for a minor to use a commercial tanning bed. Parents are obliged to sign a form that specifies the number of times a year a teenager can tan each year. But surprise, surprise evidence gathered by the University of Utah department of dermatology shows that the law is not enforced. Tanning salons tend not to ask for the forms.
There are commercial alternatives for getting that golden glow. Spray-on tans don't carry the risks that UV browning does.
An outright ban on kids' use of UV tanning beds at commercial salons really does make sense. California, the land of tan, already has such a law. Utah should, too.