There could be more than 20 tattooists selling their services in Nelson, predominantly underground "scratchers", long-term professional Sharon Salmon has told the Nelson City Council.
"There's nine active tattooists in Nelson in business that you can visually see, there's probably another 10 to 15 that are underground. Those are huge numbers," Salmon told councillors at the planning and regulations committee meeting this week.
"I'm open six days a week and I'm fully booked all day every day, two months in advance. There's a lot of people going through," she said.
The issue surfaced last month after a father complained to Nelson MP Nick Smith that his 16-year-old daughter had both hands tattooed, prompting the MP to say that the industry needed to be cleaned up.
Salmon addressed the committee's public forum, calling for the council to look at following Auckland's example of adopting a bylaw to impose restrictions on tattooing, body piercing, nail studios and other "personal services" where the skin can be broken.
Active for 25 years and one of New Zealand's first female tattooists, she said she'd opened her Nelson business three years ago but had been a long-time advocate of industry regulation through councils "that would support not only the public but the tattooists themselves".
There was almost no health and safety or bylaw support and although "old school" practitioners like her had strong ethics around age of consent, health and safety, the industry was being flooded with untrained "scratchers" who bought their equipment through the internet.
Consultation and informed consent were paramount for her but you could "just walk in" and get tattooed at some other Nelson parlours.
Salmon said she had her first tattoo at 13 "which was terrible" and her mother was able to get it removed by a specialist. If any of her eight children came home with something like that "it would blow me away", she said, but there were currently no national or local restrictions.
Councillor Ian Barker pointed to information he had found saying that while tattooing at any age was legal, only a parent or guardian could give consent for a tattoo on anyone under 16. But Salmon said that was often ignored by unethical tattooists.
"I could be tattooing a 15-year-old tomorrow and have no accountability, and that's wrong. If a council has these bylaws or some kind of relationship with us, we become liable, and our people and our community have council to go to if there's any issues."
Several councillors were surprised at the lack of regulation and later in the meeting they backed a recommendation from committee chairman Brian McGurk that council officers report on the options for bringing in a code of conduct to manage health and hygiene risks.
McGurk said age restrictions were Parliament's business, but the council might have a role in other aspects. "We don't know what the scale of the problem is. We need some advice on that and on whether or not a bylaw is an appropriate course of action, that's all I'm seeking," he said.
Barker was the sole voice in opposition, arguing that the council should instead lobby the Government.
"I can't think of anything worse than every council in the country coming up with its own set of regulations in a bylaw," he said.
Councillors were earlier told by acting strategy and environment group manager Nicky McDonald that it might be difficult to meet the required legal test for a bylaw; the issue was significant and important.
There had been only one tattoo-related health problem in Nelson, a case of hepatitis, and since the sufferer was an intravenous drug user the link was unproven.
Researching a bylaw for Nelson would be time-consuming for already-busy council staff.
- The Nelson Mail
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