Dying For a Tan:The Case for Prohibiting the Use of Commercial Sunbeds
From the 1920’s onwards, tanning was seen as aspirational. It spoke of foreign holidays and the lifestyle of the rich and famous. It was a matter of “looking good” and “looking well”. The growth of the domestic tanning industry followed and tanning salons became common in the high street and in the health club. However, over time concerns began to arise due to the health risks of sunbeds and in particular the link with skin cancer.
Over the UK, there has been gradual regulation of the use of sunbeds over the last decade. This began in Scotland, followed by legislation in England and Wales, and Northern Ireland (Public Health (Scotland) Act 2008, Sunbeds Regulation Act 2010, Sunbeds Act (Northern Ireland) 2011). The legislation includes general bans on the use of sunbeds by persons under 18 (subject to some exceptions for medical use), information provision in relation to sunbeds, use of protective glasses, and emissions. Although such legislation exists, it has been beset by practical problems of enforcement. In England it is still the case that regulations have not even been introduced to bring various parts of the legislation into force. Furthermore, it has been argued that across the UK the law has been subject to inadequate and inconsistent enforcement by local authorities; something also impacted by the extensive public sector funding cuts which have reduced the capability of local authorities to effectively actively police tanning salons in recent years.
But even if enforcement of the existing provisions were improved, given the health risks involved through sunbed use, it is argued that there is a case for a much more radical approach. Here a comparator is the approach taken in Australia. In the light of particular concern expressed as to the rise of skin cancer, steps were taken across Australian states first to restrict and then to discontinue use of commercial sunbeds. Subsequently the use of commercial sunbeds was banned. Sunbeds were surrendered by licensees, and operators received compensation for the loss of their machines and business. Many machines were collected and disposed of by state governments, and prosecutions have followed where the legislation has been infringed. In the UK, it is time that we also revisited this area in the light of the very real risks posed of harm flowing from sunbed use. This isn’t simply a matter of personal choice and “beauty”; sunbed use is a public health question and one which warrants further public attention. It is time that legislators revisited the whole area and moved from incomplete and inadequately enforced legislation towards a statutory prohibition on the use of commercial sunbeds.
- For further discussion on this area: M. Latham and J. McHale “A Matter of Life and Death? Regulating to Avert the Risks of Cancer from Cosmetic Sunbed Use in the UK and Australia”. (2017) Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics 81-98
Melanie Latham, School of Law, MMU and Jean McHale, Centre for Health Law Science and Policy, Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham