Will FDA Deliver a Knock-Out Punch to Indoor Tanning?

The Food and Drug Administration has announced that it will finally be taking a closer look at the health effects of indoor tanning, starting with an advisory committee meeting on March 25.  Considering that the agency has taken a decade (and counting) to release regulations guiding the manufacture, composition, and advertising of sunscreens, the FDA is acting relatively quickly on indoor tanning.

Image by Flickr user cogdogblog by Creative Commons license

Dermatologists, cancer advocates, and pediatricians, among others, have been seeking some kind of stricter regulations on indoor tanning, or, more hopefully, an outright ban.  Many states and localities have begun to restrict the use of indoor tanning by minors. But, despite a wealth of evidence that excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation, even when delivered indoors, leads to skin cancer, the federal government has not moved to more strictly police tanning salons.

Congress has been prodding the FDA for years.  In 2007, the Tanning Accountability and Notification Act was included in the Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act of 2007.  The TAN Act (see page 36 here) directed the FDA to study tanning bed warning labels that had been in place since 1985, with an eye toward making them more prominent and comprehensible by consumers. The FDA was then to report back to Congress.

In December 2008, the agency told lawmakers in its required report that it was considering updating the warning labels.  A series of focus groups led it to believe that maybe the almost-quarter-century-old labels might have reached their expiration date.

A year later, the FDA created a web page warning consumers about the dangers of tanning indoors.

And now, the advisory panel. According to the announcement, “There continues to be a growing body of literature showing association of skin cancer with use of tanning lamps and the committee will discuss this information and other information related to the association of UV and skin cancer (both melanoma and non-melanoma). The committee will be asked to recommend whether changes to current classification or current regulatory controls of UV emitting devices [lamps] used for tanning are needed.”

Expect a lively discussion at the meeting, with likely appearances by tanning salon owners and the Indoor Tanning Association. Those groups are already unhappy about a 10% tax on tanning users that’s being proposed as part of health reform.

The agency usually takes its advisory committees’ advice to heart.  We’ll be keeping an eye on this panel’s proceedings.

— Alicia Ault (on Twitter @aliciaault)

This post also appears on The Mole, the blog of Skin & Allergy News, an International Medical News Group/Elsevier publication.

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Filed under Dermatology, Drug And Device Safety, Health Policy, health reform, Internal Medicine, Oncology, Pediatrics, Primary care

3 responses to “Will FDA Deliver a Knock-Out Punch to Indoor Tanning?

  1. Indoor Tanning Association Settles FTC Charges That It Deceived Consumers About Skin Cancer Risks From Tanning
    see press release: http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2010/01/tanning.shtm

  2. Alicia Ault

    Janet, thanks for the tip. This is good to know.

  3. Joe

    Perhaps the FDA will also take a look at the American Cancer Society’s SEER report that tracks cancer incidence and fatalities: 90% of incidence and fatality due to melanoma are age 45 and older, the median age is 60 and the majority are male. Quite a different demographic to typical indoor tanner who is between 18 and 35 and female.

    Also note that professional tanning salons have tanners sign a liability waiver, which confirms that they have read and understand the warning label:

    “DANGER–Ultraviolet radiation. Follow instructions. Avoid overexposure. As with natural sunlight, overexposure can cause eye and skin injury and allergic reactions. Repeated exposure may cause premature aging of the skin and skin cancer. WEAR PROTECTIVE EYEWEAR; FAILURE TO MAY RESULT IN SEVERE BURNS OR LONG-TERM INJURY TO THE EYES. Medications or cosmetics may increase your sensitivity to the ultraviolet radiation. Consult physician before using sunlamp if you are using medications or have a history of skin problems or believe yourself especially sensitive to sunlight. If you do not tan in the sun, you are unlikely to tan from the use of this product.”

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