80% of Melbourne tanning salons allow underage customers

According to a recent survey by the Cancer Council Victoria, solarium operators are flouting rules by allowing teenagers under 18 to use sun beds despite laws banning them from doing so.

The survey results showed 80 per cent of Melbourne operators surveyed allowed access to teenagers who concealed their age or claimed without proof to be 18. The survey, conducted in 2009, also revealed that almost half the operators granted access to people with fair skin (skin type 1), who are also banned from solarium use under legislation introduced in Victoria in 2008.

Laws have made it illegal for under-18s to use solariums. In 2010, the state government made it even harder for teenagers to use sun beds by making it mandatory for operators to see proof of age.

However under 10 per cent of solarium operators surveyed complied fully with the rules, which also require displaying health warnings, completing skin assessments, ensuring clients wear protective eyewear and asking them to sign a consent form outlining the risks.

According to a Health Department spokesman since the 2008 changes it had temporarily closed solariums at six sites due to breaches. He said operators who continued to disregard the law would be hit with fines of up to $732,000 for companies and $146,000 for individuals. “We are undertaking regular compliance checks and are now moving out of the education phase to enforcement,” he said.

Tanning beds have been claimed to raise risk of skin cancers. Studies indicate about 280 new melanoma cases, 40 melanoma-related deaths and 2570 new cases of squamous cell carcinoma can be blamed on solarium use in Australia each year. This costs the health system about $3 million.

“The bottom line is there are no circumstances where using a solarium is safe…The levels of UV radiation emitted can be up to three times as strong as the midday sun,” said Cancer council’s Sue Heward. People who use a solarium before the age of 35 also have a 75 per cent greater risk of melanoma than those who do not use solariums, she said. “Tanning is a sign your skin cells are in trauma and the more your skin is exposed to UV radiation, the greater your risk of skin cancer,” she said.

She added that operators disregarding laws designed to protect consumers need to be prepared to pay the price. She said more needs to be done adding, “The opportunity now for the Government is they need to be applying fines. So we've got strong legislation in this state, and in most states across Australia, but we've seen very little of fines being introduced, and we know clearly from the results that operators are not adhering with the regulations.”

The number of solarium sites in Victoria has fallen by 65 per cent since 2008. There are 145 businesses licensed to run a total of 475 tanning units at 153 sites.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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