By Charis Hill Subedited by Sukey Richardson
In 2010 The Sunbed Regulation Act imposed guidelines on the use of ‘electrically-powered devices, designed to produce tanning of the human skin by the emission of ultra-violet radiation’ in ‘a business that involves making one or more sunbeds available for use on premises that are occupied by, or are to any extent under the management or control of, the person who carries on the business’ The Sunbed Regulation Act 2010 imposed a duty to prevent the use of sunbeds by children.
The Regulation secludes children (under the age of 18) from using sunbeds or from even entering restricted zones within a sunbed business and if a person fails to adhere to the regulation they are liable to being fined significantly. Given the ever increasing demand to be tanned, the popularity of sunbeds has grown dramatically, especially amongst young people. However, it is not only sunbed use that has increased; concurrently there has been a large increase in skin cancer diagnosis. Rates of malignant melanoma among young people have seen a dramatic rise.
Previously, around 290 cases of malignant melanoma were diagnosed per year among 15-34 year olds, whereas now over 900 youngsters are being diagnosed – that’s more than a 300% increase. Sunbeds emit ultraviolet rays in greater doses than the midday tropical sun, which absolutely increases your risk of developing malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. In fact, a direct correlation was made between sunbed use and skin cancer diagnosis in people under 25 years old. In addition, sunbeds have been linked to severe burns, damaged eyes and skin damage in a number of children that have used them oblivious to, or regardless of their potential dangers.
So how serious is it?
Melanoma is one of the most serious forms of skin cancer, it can spread to other organs in the body- causing more complications. Although having pale skin that burns easily, a lot of moles or freckles, red or blonde hair or a family member who has had melanoma are also factors in the chances of developing melanoma, it is harmful ultraviolent (UV) rays that can increase a person’s chance of diagnosis. Statistically, Melanoma is the 5th most severe cancer in the UK with 13,000 diagnoses’ a year – over a quarter of which are in patients aged 50 or younger. Melanoma causes around 2,000 deaths a year, although it can be treated there is a high chance of relapse or the disease spreading further.
The risk of Cancer is a threat no one should expose themselves to, let alone children but this has not been the case. Shockingly, on average 6% of 11 to 17-year-olds in England used sunbeds, rising to 50% of 15 to 17-year-olds girls in Liverpool and Sunderland. Using a sunbed regularly can almost double their chance of developing skin cancer. Furthermore, more than two people under the age of 35 are diagnosed with malignant melanoma every day in the UK and those that use sunbeds increase their chances of skin cancer by 20%.
What makes people use sunbeds?
In a world characterized by binge-tanning, rising from reality television and celebrity culture, young people are quite literally dying in vain. With confidence and self-esteem in young people at an ultimate low, the pressure on young people to reach a particular beauty standard means young people are trying everything to fit in – including sunbed abuse. According to Dr Jeffrey Lake the “worries of young people are cosmetic when they should really be thinking about the unseen damage they’re inflicting on themselves.” Dr Jeffrey Lake fears that “the desire for tanned skin in young people is blinding them to the potential long-term health risks associated with regularly using sunbeds”
Given the statistics on skin cancer in young people we have to ask the question is being beautiful in the eyes of society worth exposure to premature death?
If you were to ask a young individual if they wished to develop skin cancer, the answer would certainly be no. So why do young people expose themselves to such a massive life threatening risk? Some suggest that steely ignorance and a lack of knowledge is what sees abusers exposing themselves to this risk. Many young people simply aren’t aware of just how vulnerable young skin is to high levels of ultraviolet radiation and the risks they are taking by using sunbeds. It is claimed that many young people do not know enough about sunbeds and those that have sufficient knowledge simply do not care enough to quit their habit. There is also a theory that young people are fully aware of the risk they are taking but they do not believe cancer will ever happen to them and they continue to use sunbeds in the belief that they will never be the one to suffer. Thus, the Sunbed Regulation Act aims to protect the most vulnerable from their own uninformed choices by stopping them from using sunbeds.
This poses the question; do we have the right to impose restrictions on young people? Do we have the right to remove their choice?
In a liberal society that bares in favour of a person’s right to make their own choices and in a society that gives rights to young people enabling them to become autonomous responsible adults, do we have the right to prevent them using sunbeds if it is there wish to do so? Given the growing diagnosis of skin cancer in young people and the ever increasing culture of binge tanning it is quite necessary to impose paternalistic regulations that save young people from themselves.
In the UK the legal drinking age, and the legal smoking age is 18, this is largely to prevent young people who are not fully mature or well informed from exposing themselves to illness and premature death. The age impediment is imposed in situations such as smoking where consequences are deathly but where society fears that young people will not make responsible decisions due to peer pressure and a desire to fit a social standard. Sunbed abuse is one of these situations where young people are influenced by cosmetic value, ignoring the damaging effects sunbeds will have on their life. It is in these circumstances that the law must act as a parent to its persons.
In support of the regulation Andrew Griffiths of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, said: “We are extremely pleased to see the Act coming into force and believe it will give valuable protection to young people who are particularly vulnerable when it comes to contracting skin cancer.” Also in favour of the Regulation Public health minister, at the time, Anne Milton said: “This new law will go some way to help reduce one of the biggest cancers among 15 to 24-year-olds” and Dr Elizabeth Rapley, from the Institute of Cancer Research believes that “Using sunbeds under the age of 35 increases the risk of developing malignant melanoma by 75%” thus “this law will go a long way to protecting children from developing malignant melanoma in later life.” It appears that those in favour of the legislation far outweigh those opposed but some suggest that the regulation itself is not enough. David Longman, director of charity Killing Cancer, goes as far to suggest that current regulation is not enough in itself. David Longman suggests a need for spot checks to be carried out in conjunction with regulation. Bevis Man supported David Longman in suggesting that although the current regulation is “a step in the right direction” more needs to be done. Bevis Man states “these measures go far enough”“further changes are necessary, such as salons being made to publish detailed information about the risks involved so that users could make better-informed decisions”It can be argued that imposed regulation impeded on a young person’s freedom of choice is warranted in situations where their life is largely at risk and rather than debating whether we are right to impose such a restriction, perhaps we should be debating whether we, as a society, have done enough?