- Simon Nicholas Williams, clinical research associate, public health, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL 60611, USA
The use of indoor tanning beds has been established to be a serious risk to human health.1 In the European Union, Northern Ireland is the latest country to pass legislation that prohibits under 18s from using indoor tanning equipment. Although this will protect children from this risk, more needs to be done if we are to respond to the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s suggestion that we need also to “discourage young adults from using indoor tanning equipment.”1
Globally, the incidence of cutaneous melanoma has increased faster than any other common cancer, with an approximate doubling of rates every 10-20 years in countries with predominantly white populations.2 For instance, in 2008 there were about 70 000 incidences of, and more than 14 000 deaths from, melanoma in the European Union.3 Although attempts at public education by health agencies and charities have increased, these are being obscured by spurious claims by the indoor tanning industry of the benefits of indoor tanning.4
Recent lessons from tobacco control in the EU teach us that tax increases are the single most effective intervention to reduce demand for harmful products.5 The EU needs to follow the example of the United States by introducing a so called tan tax; an excise on indoor tanning services. A new EU directive for the taxation of indoor tanning services would complement existing directives focused on product safety.6 Importantly, these excise duties would provide additional revenue for governments and reduce numbers of melanomas and other skin cancers—something that would also subsequently reduce governments’ healthcare costs. All or a portion of this revenue could be earmarked for public health education initiatives warning of the dangers of ultraviolet radiation exposure.