Despite the hoopla over dysfunction in Washington, the government can still do useful things. To prove it, the Food and Drug Administration should move aggressively to implement and then strengthen its proposed cancer warnings about tanning beds.
A stunning 20 million to 30 million Americans each year use tanning beds. Use is particularly concentrated among young white women. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that about 30 percent of white women between the ages of 18 and 25 used an indoor tanning machine in 2010. And about 60 percent of that group did so at least 10 times during the year.
The ultraviolet radiation from indoor tanning far exceeds that of the natural sun. For example, tanning machines' output of UVA rays, which cause skin darkening, is at least four times that of natural sunlight, even the rays during the summer at noon in Washington. The UVB output, which causes burns, is about twice that of natural sunlight.
Studies suggest that people who use indoor tanning before age 35 increase their risk of melanoma (the most serious type of skin cancer) by about 75 percent. Similarly, the National Cancer Institute estimates that women who use indoor tanning at least once a month are 55 percent more likely to develop melanoma.
The Indoor Tanning Association, an industry lobbying group, has claimed that indoor tanning is safer than exposure to natural sunlight. But the Federal Trade Commission has found those claims to be false, and forced the association to stop making them.