Alabama bill seeks to ban minors from using tanning beds

It's prom season, and lots of teenagers are trying to look their best for the big night. Indoor tanning is big. But health experts warn that tanning bed use puts people at a greater risk of skin cancer.

Just recently, New Jersey's Governor signed a bill banning tanning beds to anyone under age 17. A similar bill is making its way through an Alabama house committee. Representative Ronald Johnson (R-Coosa) has a{}bill, which seeks to ban anyone under the age of 18 from using a commercial tanning bed. More than 30 states regulate the use of tanning facilities by minors.

Elite Tan owner Vicki Taylor says, whether it's for prom or a trip to the beach, her clients want that special glow. Indoor tanning salons are a multi-billion dollar industry.

Michelle Bain of Oxford, Al. says she used to tan in her teens and twenties, sometimes daily. But she stopped tanning after seeing a mole on her skin, an early sign of the skin cancer melanoma. Bain had the mole removed but says she caught the cancer early, and stopped the cells from spreading.

Bain supports the House bill.

"Teenagers especially are all about what's in front of them, and taking this option away from them to save their lives down the can't argue with that," Bain says.

Dermatologist Vera Soong says there is no such thing as a healthy indoor tan. Dr. Soong says UV rays emitted by tanning beds are more powerful than those emitted from natural sunlight. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds those who begin tanning before age 35 have a 70 percent higher risk of melanoma.

"It's going up in the younger age group, and it's directly related to tanning beds," Dr. Soong says.

Joseph Levy, executive director of the International Smart Tan Network, says the industry has always been in favor of parental consent for minors who tan. Levy, however, insists the center of debate should be sunburn prevention, no matter the source.

"If you tell people they can not use an indoor tanning bed and they restricted from that use, then we know they will tan more aggressively outdoors in an uncontrolled environment," Levy says. "...People know they are overstating information in an attempt to influence policy and people are tired of that.

Vicki Taylor's salon already follows strict guidelines.

"If they are younger than 16, they have to come in with a parent and a parent has to sign a form. Anyone above 16 has to sign their own consent form that they know the dangers of tanning and they have to wear their eyewear to protect their eyelids and eyes," Taylor says. "We just really promote a safer, more educated way of tanning versus letting them come in and just putting them in a bed."

Several local tanning salon owners tell ABC 33/40's Marissa Mitchell that they have similar parental consent measures in place. Levy says that's pretty much the industry standard and salons are subject to federal regulations as well. But when it comes to that House bill, if a salon owner violates the law, he or she would be fined $200 for the first violation and up to $500 for subsequent violations.

Mitchell was unable to get in touch with Rep. Johnson, however, that bill is in the House health committee.

Dr. Soong, an advocate for the bill, says the group will have an uphill battle to get it passed this legislative session.