Cancer prevention needs a stick

Students' tan-free grad program helps get message across

With the Capital Regional District bylaw banning indoor tanning for youth under age 18 in effect and the B.C. government recently committing to introduce legislation this fall, some may ask why the stick, as opposed to the carrot, when it comes to preventing skin cancer?

In a perfect world, people would do everything they could to avoid cancer, such as not smoking, being physically active, maintaining a healthy body weight, avoiding excessive ultraviolet radiation and reducing exposure to occupational and environmental carcinogens.

Cancer prevention research is reported widely in the media and we know that most people are aware of the importance of living a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, knowledge does not always translate into behaviour change.

Research points to the fact that, despite years of public health education on the dangers of indoor tanning, 27 per cent of young women are still making it a habit. There are a multitude of reasons for this, one of the most prevalent being the desire for bronzed skin, which frequently trumps any thought of the possibility of skin cancer down the road.

Like many policies that protect youth from high-risk behaviours such as drinking and smoking, an underage indoor tanning ban makes sense from a public health perspective. We know that indoor tanning is detrimental to our health, particularly for youth. It significantly increases the risk of skin cancer; in fact, any use of indoor tanning equipment before age 35 increases a person’s risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, by 75 per cent.

Some may also wonder whether it should be up to parents to decide whether or not their child tans indoors. Given the extreme risk of indoor tanning, particularly for youth, allowing parents to provide their consent would not be health-protective.

Parents are not permitted to buy their children alcohol or cigarettes and it is sensible to put the same restrictions on indoor tanning. In addition, research shows no significant difference between the indoor tanning behaviour of teens in jurisdictions with parental consent laws versus those without.

In this season of Grade 12 graduation ceremonies, many students will not have had the chance to visit their local tanning salon here in the CRD.  For those living outside the region and for those who turn 18 before their graduation, it is our sincere hope that the profile of this issue has risen to the point where more students are making informed choices.

Through our Tan-Free Grad campaign we engaged thousands of students across B.C. More than 5,000 students have pledged to be tan-free for their graduation this year. The trend is changing and we thank the CRD board for putting the health of B.C.’s youth first, and look forward to the province following suit.

About half of all cancers are preventable and as leaders in cancer prevention, the Canadian Cancer Society invests in best practices which include a combination of public education, community action and advocacy for healthy public policy. In doing so, we will continue to remind government of their role in reducing the burden of cancer so that healthier choices are easier choices for everyone.

Nancy Falconer,

Canadian Cancer Society

B.C. and Yukon