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Study Finds Kentucky's Tanning Bed Age Restrictions May Not Be Working

Tanning bed salons across the country — including some on Kentucky — might not be following state rules on age restrictions and tanning, according to a new study out last month.

In Kentucky, children under age 14 have to have a guardian with them to tan. Teenagers between 14 and 18 have to have written consent from a guardian. But when researchers called ten randomly-selected Kentucky tanning salons posing as minors, seven of the salons successfully made an appointment without informing the researcher of age restrictions.

Researchers also called 417 salons in 41 other states and the District of Columbia, and found many that did not comply with state laws.

The study was published in late October in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Dermatology.

The state sample size is very small, but study co-author Dr. Erik Stratman, a dermatologist in Wisconsin, said the larger results are more indicative of a nationwide problem that state lawmakers should look at.

“This isn’t a study that shows any given state has a problem, but the sample size across the U.S. is enough to say this is an issue we need to look state by state,” Stratman said.

States in the Midwest, Northeast and West were more likely to inform callers of age restrictions, while states in the South were less likely to follow those age restrictions.

Researchers also found salons in states with only one blanket age restriction — unlike the two separate requirements Kentucky has for teenagers and children under 14 — were more likely to inform callers.

“I don’t think there’s the complexity of having your appointment staff remember if it’s this scenario, then it’s that. And if it’s the other scenario it’s this,” Stratman said. “The simpler the better when it comes to restriction laws.”

Kentucky’s age restrictions have been in place since 2008. But for the past four years, there have been renewed efforts to ban tanning for anyone under 18 unless they had a medical reason like phototherapy.

Kristy Young, grassroots manager for the American Cancer Action Network in Kentucky, said the current law requiring written guardian consent isn’t working.

“It’s not deterring youth from using tanning devices,” Young said.

Kentucky has one of the highest rates of skin cancer and melanoma in the country.  The leading cause of these cancers is ultraviolet radiation from the sun and from tanning lamps.

Young said the study results provide more evidence that there need to be clear rules for tanning salons to follow.

Study co-author Erik Stratman said the key to these laws is enforcement, adding that the more simple the age restriction is, the better.

“I hope this study helps lawmakers realize that just having passed the law doesn’t necessarily mean there’s compliance instantly with that law,” Stratman said. “The monitoring process is important to see if the laws are being followed.”

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.

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