Tanning Ban Is More Than Skin Deep in Restricting Rights

The other night, as I sat in my living room watching the local news I saw a story that really made me shake my head. The news reported that officials in Howard County, Maryland, had banned people under the age of 18 from using tanning beds.


Why? It’s because health officials in Howard County convinced the local government that teenagers are at too high a risk for melanoma and other types of skin cancer, and therefore shouldn’t expose themselves to indoor tanning. While one can argue that yes, tanning beds do increase the likelihood of getting cancer, banning our youngsters from going to tanning salons is not the right thing to do.

The ban, which takes effect today, means that teenagers who want to look like they went to Florida in the middle of January will have to either settle for pale skin this winter, or seek un-conventional methods of getting an artificial tan. All because it wouldn’t be nice to expose them to harmful rays. (Maybe Howard County would like to legislate which hours teenagers can be outside in summer, too.)

Now, this is exactly one more example of government intervention where it shouldn’t be intervening at all. The government — local, state and national — should promote healthy living and let us know what’s out there, in terms of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. But banning us from doing something like going to a tanning salon is nonsense. If 16-year-old Jane Q. Public wants to strap on her bikini and go to a tanning salon, that’s her business. (Heck, if 60-year-old Jane wants to do the same thing, that’s her business, too. Who am I to judge?) Aside from parents, who’s to say she has no right to do that?

I myself don’t frequent tanning salons, and thus have never been in a bed. (Whether by natural or artificial UV light, the results aren’t pretty.) But from what I understand from friends who do go to them, the salons give potential tanners a heads up that, yes, the lights are potentially harmful. And then it is up to the customers to decide whether or not they want to go forward and get a tan.

The bottom line is, people are smart enough to decide for themselves whether or not they want a tan. And they’re smart enough to do some research about salons, artificial tanning in general, the health risks, and decide if the pros outweigh the cons. Putting a ban on people under 18 from tanning won’t resolve anything. It’s just like underage smoking…teenagers who want to smoke are still going to get cigarettes. Most teens are taught — at an early age — the dangers of smoking and the consequences on the human body. But they choose to light up anyway.

Who’s to say that teenagers (and indeed, anyone really) wouldn’t go try and find some sort of underground method of getting their tan? They might know someone who knows someone who has a cheap, black-market kind of tanning bed, and get some artificial rays that way. Now, assuming this underground salon doesn’t know what they’re doing and has sub-standard beds, etc., isn’t that more dangerous for our kinds than for them to go to a “professional” salon?

Besides, in addition to all of these questions, I have yet another, this one directed at an institution we call government: Don’t you have more important things to worry about? Whether you’re in a local town, a state capital or Washington, methinks the answer to that question is “yes.” There are staggering debts everywhere, which we’re expecting our grandchildren’s grandchildren to pay off. There’s talk about nationalizing healthcare, which the House of Representatives gleefully voted “yes” to last weekend like the cat that just ate the canary. There are our brave men and women in uniform, fighting overseas for reasons we’re not really sure about, and some people are trying to figure whether or not we should bring them home.

These issues aren’t just for the seemingly far-off folks on Capitol Hill; they touch us closer to home also…including those in Howard County. I would guess these topics would carry more urgency than putting a simple ban on underage tanning.

If anything, the teenagers of Howard County, Maryland ought to use this issue as a civics lesson. It’s classic example of how government works…err, doesn’t work. And they ought to follow the example from their older fellow Americans across the country, who’ve hosted many a town hall debate about healthcare over the last few months. Why not host a town hall with their local officials and get this law overturned? This is America, the last time I checked. We CAN repeal laws…look at how we used the 21st Amendment to repeal the 18th.

Also, this should serve as a warning to those same teenagers that government likes to slowly slither its way into our private lives and try to control them, one little bit at a time. Next thing you know, it’ll write laws forbidding grocery stores to sell candy and other types of junk food. Or requiring people to only drive their cars are certain hours of the day. Need I go further with my examples?

It’s just a bad idea to ban those under 18 from using tanning beds…in Howard County or any other locale. It’s just another example of government extending itself, and it doesn’t promote personal responsibility on the part of the private citizen.

Adam Hopkins

November 12, 2009