Along with last month’s passing of a comprehensive universal healthcare bill came a tax on the use of tanning-beds and artificial UV rays – setting sun-bed users and tanning salon owners up in arms. Nevertheless, along with the protests comes a spotlight on new research drawing attention to the dangers of sun abuse, and for the first time, bringing light on the relationship between addiction and tanning.
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) is applauding the tanning tax because it brings awareness to the health risks related to indoor tanning. The AAD says that indoor tanning before age 35 causes a 75% increased risk for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer which has become increasingly common in young women. In the U.S., close to 30 million people use tanning beds each year, and a reported 2.3 million of those sun-bed users are teens. In the U.K. laws have been instituted banning anyone under the age of 18 from using tanning-beds. The AAD is hoping the tanning tax will remind young U.S. teens that tanning is hazardous to their health.
The tax will reduce the amount of money the U.S. spends annually on treating skin cancers (approximately $1.8 billion – $300 million on melanoma alone). In addition to a government-sanctioned push against the tanning industry, studies have revealed that tanning is not just dangerous but also addictive.
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A survey published in the Archives of Dermatology designed to assess addiction to alcohol and substances found that approximately one-third of young people who use indoor-tanning facilities are addicted to the behavior. While it is not necessarily news that the sun can boost endorphins and make you feel good, this survey suggests that tanning can trigger the same parts of the brain that are triggered by dependencies. The study found that those who met the criteria for tanning addiction also had higher rates of substance abuse and other addictions, demonstrating the direct relationship between addiction and tanning.
“There might be a similar mechanism underlying substance-use behavior and tanning behavior,” states Catherine E. Mosher, a researcher at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City and the study’s lead author. “Both may be a way of coping with emotions. There may be similar processes in the brain involved that need to be uncovered.”
Admitted tanning addicts – or tanorexics – have said that the physical results are not their primary reason for tanning, but rather because tanning makes them feel relaxed and calm. This could become an increasingly important issue as ‘tanorexia’ has come to the forefront in pop culture. English pop-star Nicola Roberts, will be the face of a BBC documentary highlighting the danger of excessive tanning, and has admitted to being a recovering tanning addict. Nicola says, “I tried to cover up my insecurities by turning into a big-time tanorexic…no matter how exhausted I was, I needed to get my fix.”
Other notable too-tanned stars include Donatella Versace and the tan-obsessed Jersey Shore crew. With the heightened visibility of young people who claim their day consists of “GTL: gym, tan, laundry”, it seems only fair that this tax be instituted to bring awareness to the dangers of a lifestyle that revolves around bronzing.
Addiction could be the explanation for why people ignore well-known and well-documented risks of over exposure to UV rays.