There's no such thing as a safe tan, even in an illuminated bed, health groups have warned. So what is New Zealand doing to regulate sunbeds and will we follow the Australian model where they're being banned altogether?
National MP Paul Hutchison wants sunbeds banned in New Zealand but is having a hard time convincing his own party to push through the required legislation.
Hutchison said the Government had stalled introducing age restrictions for sunbed use as he worked towards his ultimate goal of a total ban, following the example of Australian states Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland which will outlaw sunbeds by the end of this year.
"I'm sympathetic toward that ban. I see sunbeds doing no good and potentially considerable harm," he told the Sunday Star-Times.
"We've got to get the first step through and make regulation of sunbeds more widespread and then see what the appetite is from the public."
An amendment to prevent children using sunbeds was put to Parliament in April last year but has yet to be passed into law. Associate Health Minister Jo Goodhew said it was taking "slightly longer than I had hoped, but it was by no means an unusually long length of time".
Hutchison said it had been delayed due to "technical hangups" and prioritised behind other matters. "I can understand the Government has a very significant legislative load. As an individual, I'm disappointed that it has not progressed further."
Auckland GP and skin cancer specialist Anthony Tam shared that disappointment. He said the Government needed to introduce tougher restrictions on sunbeds, because of their health risks.
Ahead of a public talk on the dangers of melanoma at Auckland University of Technology this Wednesday, Tam said there was a direct link between radiation from sunbeds and melanoma, as well as non-melanoma skin cancer.
"Worldwide it's been proven that it's incredibly dangerous," he said. "Skin cancer's a scary disease. But it doesn't need to be. The important thing is to know the risk factors."
Tam said using sunbeds was potentially more risky than exposure to sunlight. Although sunbeds use less ultraviolet B rays, meaning you don't get burnt, they use more UV A rays, which have waves that go deeper into the skin.
"UV A is probably more dangerous because you don't get that warning sign - you don't get that burning."
The World Health Organisation has categorised UV radiation from sunbeds as carcinogenic to humans.
Melanoma foundation chief executive Linda Flay said the links between sunbeds and cancer had been widely known for a long time and stronger controls were needed. "Regulation is a good start but ultimately we've got to look at a ban. We're lagging behind Australia and other countries."
New Zealand has one of the highest rates of melanoma in the world, with an estimated 67,000 cases of non-melanoma skin cancer every year. Ministry of Health figures show 454 people died from skin cancer in 2010 - 324 from melanoma and 130 from non-melanoma skin cancer.
Flay said she often met people who had previously been "sunbed worshippers" but were now battling cancer.
Goodhew said while the Government was waiting for the draft of the amendment to the health act, commercial sunbed operators were being warned of looming changes.
Auckland tanning salons were also on notice, with a new code of practice being applied by Auckland Council from July 1. It will be the first bylaw in the country to ban people under 18 using sunbeds and apply a set of standards to protect consumers from health and hygiene risks.
The council's environmental health manager Mervyn Chetty said there were 34 listed sunbed operators in Auckland, but only 24 of these were currently licensed under the new bylaw.
Chetty said health officers would monitor all sites and said the council had powers to suspend or cancel their licence.
Sunworld Professional Tanning Studio owner Heike Hofer said she welcomed the tighter controls. She said she has operated sunbeds in Takapuna for 16 years and had complied with safety standards, but said "unfortunately a lot of tanning salons were not sticking to the guidelines".
That included not informing customers of safety risks, not providing appropriate eyewear, and not enforcing a minimum wait period between visits, she said.
Hofer argued against a sunbed ban, saying it was "unfair to close down salons even if they're doing a good job".
She said many people would lose their livelihood.
"Some businesses would be OK because they have other means of income. All our staff would become unemployed. It would destroy us. We have no plan B."
TAN SALONS FLOG OFF SUNBEDS
Fancy having your own sunbed at home? You can buy one online for as little as $120, with a range of websites selling second-hand tanning machines at discounted prices.
Mt Maunganui Global Fitness Club listed its sunbed on auction site Trade Me last week.
Manager Carl Newman said he bought the machine 11 years ago, but its popularity had dropped and he was now hoping to fetch about $300 from a private buyer.
"We just don't have the volume of customers to keep it," he said. "With all these restrictions and checks and balances coming in, it's really not worth all that time and effort that we would have had to put in to train staff."
A sunbed rental operator in Auckland, Topmark, was closing his business because he has not had a customer for six months. He has been trying to offload his remaining beds online but said they were "worth next to nothing".
He blamed greater awareness of associated health risks with putting people off using them.
"There's no business in it any more because of all this adverse publicity," he said. "I've lost a lot of money. I'm basically winding down and selling them off."
The Cancer Society warned against buying sunbeds for private use.
Health promotion adviser for skin-cancer control Barb Hegan said there were "huge concerns" about the ease at which sunbeds were available.
She said they posed a potentially higher danger than commercial tanning salons because they were being used outside a controlled environment, with little to no monitoring of their radiation emissions.
"They're cheap as chips to buy online but they're not safe," she said. "There are a lot of associated risks.
"The other issue is they're impossible to regulate or ensure they're comply with safety standards," she said.
Hegan said the society had written to Trade Me in the past to pull advertisements for sunbeds.
At time of publication, 11 sunbeds were listed on Trade Me, ranging from $120 up to $5500.
Trade Me spokesman Jeff Hunkin said sunbeds were "not an item on our radar" to add to the banned list but he said they were happy to speak with the Cancer Society to hear its concerns.
"Our suggestion to potential buyers," he said, "is to get well-informed with the issues surrounding sunbed use before making a purchase."
A public information night Melanoma – The Facts, is on Wednesday, May 14, from 6.45pm at Auckland University of Technology, North Shore Campus, Akoranga Drive, Northcote.
- Sunday Star Times
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