|By Chris Maza
Reminder Publications submitted photo
WILBRAHAM Wilbraham native and melanoma survivor Meghan Rothschild is continuing the battle against tanning establishments.
As part of her fight, Rothschild, the director of Marketing and Communications at Wilbraham & Monson Academy in addition to board member for the Melanoma Foundation of New England and founder of SurvivingSkin.org, a skin cancer awareness website, testified at the State House in Boston on June 4 in favor of new legislation regarding the regulation of businesses that utilize tanning beds.
Bill S.1105, which was sponsored by state Sen. James Timilty (D-Walpole) calls for for stricter regulations on the tanning booth industry, particularly prohibiting anyone younger than 18 from using a tanning booth.
According Massachusetts General Law Chapter 111, Section 211, children younger than 14 may utilize tanning beds provided a parent accompanies them and children from 14 to 17 years old may use tanning beds without parental supervision as long as they have written permission.
"Tanning booths are the cigarette of my generation," Rothschild said. "In 20 years we're going to look back and say, 'Do you remember when we used to let a 14-year-old do that?' ... We're going to look back and realize we made a mistake."
Rothschild said the measure only makes sense given the damage tanning beds can cause.
"The first thing to note is the World Health Organization and United States Department of Health and Human Services came out and declared tanning beds as a known carcinogen and they are listed as just as carcinogenic as cigarettes," she said. "If you look at the regulations on cigarettes, no one under the age of 18 is allowed to purchase cigarettes. What I always say is if we're regulating that for our teens, why aren't we regulating something that is not only cancer-causing, but something that teens are more prone to use?"
The issue is one Rothschild takes very seriously, having been diagnosed with Stage 2 melanoma after using tanning beds for 2 1/2 years. After multiple procedures, including surgery, Rothschild was cancer-free, but needed to have eight lymph nodes removed to ensure that. She has now been cancer-free for nine years.
Should the bill make it to the House of Representatives, it would mark the fifth straight year it has been considered and Rothschild said the Melanoma Foundation has pursued tighter restrictions for years before that. The last four times it was before the House, it was defeated. However, Rothschild said she sees the opportunity for that to change.
"I think now that other states have done it Rhode Island just did a stricter regulation, New Jersey just passed something like this, as did West Virginia and California I think there's more of a willingness to jump on that bandwagon because there's precedent," she said.
The bill has its detractors, primarily those who own tanning businesses, some of who also testified at the hearing; one major concern in the loss of business.
"Everyone's worried about small business and financial implications, which to me is crap," Rothschild said. "That's never a reason why you continue to allow teenagers to harm their bodies. Financial gain is not a reasonable enough excuse for me."
Rothschild added that there are alternatives to tanning beds, including spray tanning, which has become increasingly popular because people are concerned of the health risks associated with tanning beds.
"There are alternatives for these tanning booth owners that may be more expensive, but you make a lot more money off of it," she said. "It's time to start modifying. It's like with any business if you don't change to adjust what the times are demanding, you're going to go out of business. They need to start implementing the proper practices if they want to stay in business."
Rothschild said she did notice a decline recently in the interest in tanning, something the attributes to a change in fashion as well as education. An article in a national publication, she said, recently stated that pale skin was a new trend among pop culture figures.
"Celebrities are coming out and embracing their natural skin tone," she said.
Still, more work must be done, Rothschild said. In addition to the legislation, she stressed that education and awareness-raising efforts must continue, much like it has for the risks of tobacco.
"There has been a tremendous amount of publicity about lung cancer and plenty of education at the secondary level and elementary level about not using cigarettes, not using drugs, so we need to get to a point now where we are regulating something that is essentially the same as a cigarette. Other states are beating us," she said.
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