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Partisan Lines Form Over Maine Tanning Bill
03/26/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

A partisan battle broke out on the House floor in Augusta today over a bill that would restrict the use of tanning beds by anyone under the age of 18. Supporters view the bill as an attempt to improve the public health outlook for teens by reducing their risk of developing skin cancer later in life. But critics of the bill say such decisions are better left to families. A.J. Higgins has more.

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State Rep. Anne Graham traces her never-ending quest for the perfect tan back to her high school days, when she would return from a day at Bar Harbor with nothing more than a sunburn for her efforts. As she grew older, the pediatric nurse practitioner from North Yarmouth says she continued her quest for darker skin.

"Hey I wanted to have a really good tan when I got married, baby - I was living in those tanning beds," Graham said. "Well, I don't have melanoma yet, but I have basal cell carcinoma."

Graham says teenage girls today face peer pressure to look tanned, and spend too much time in tanning salons. The bill, LD 272, would prevent anyone under the age of 18 from using a tanning bed, a restriction that Graham supports.

"When I go to the doctor and I check off whether I have cancer or not, you know what, I do," Graham said. "I've had at least a dozen or more basal cell carcinomas because I burned as a child. If someone had told me that that was unsafe - to be in tanning beds or to get sunburned - probably I wouldn't do it."

The state imposed tanning bed regulations four years ago that are about to go into effect. They prohibit anyone under the age of 14 from being able to use a tanning bed. The new policies also require parental participation and consent for those 14 to 15 years old and consent forms for those 16 and 17 years old.

Rep. Linda Sanborn, a Gorham Democrat, says the current restrictions for teens don't go far enough. She cites the finding that more than 14 percent of ninth-grade girls used indoor tanning in the past year.

"And that rate rises to 38 percent by the 12th grade" Sanborn said. "Indoor tanning use by Maine teens exceeds the national average. Parents don't understand that they are putting their children at risk by allowing this form of tanning. If one must tan there are other safer alternatives."

But opponents of the bill, including Republican state Rep. Lance Harvell of Farmington, say it's ill-conceived. "It might well be called an act to neuter parents," Harvell said.

Harvell says the bill goes too far in dictating decisions that should be made by a teen's parents. "Already when you go to a tanning salon, they must actually read a statement on the potential risk," Harvell said. "The parents know it. I say we let them make the decisions - I, for one, know that I don't want to be the parent of 1.3 million people."

And Republican state Rep. Deborah Sanderson - a mother of five - says there could be an unintended consequence of telling teenagers that they can't use commercial tanning beds.

"Because what's going to happen, independent studies have shown, is that teens will simply tan more aggressively outdoors or will turn to unregulated home tanning beds in the basements of their friends," Sanderson said.

The 82-63 vote of initial approval fell largely along party lines. The bill faces additional votes in the House and Senate.


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