Daniel Patmore, AP
Katie Donnar, 18, shows her scar from where the melanoma was on the calf of her leg in front of a tanning bed like the on she used at her home and at the tanning salons. Donnar was in the sixth grade when she started using tanning beds. (AP Photo/ Daniel R. Patmore)

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would penalize minors for using tanning beds without parental consent, passed through the Senate Wednesday.

SB41 sponsor Sen. Pat Jones, D-Salt Lake City, called it a "big win," as the fifth substitute of the original bill now heads to the Utah House of Representatives. Supporters say it is a step in the right direction, as the incidence of melanoma continues to grow in Utah.

"There is no doubt that ultraviolet light is a carcinogen," said Dr. Sancy Leachman, a Huntsman Cancer Institute dermatologist. She said ultraviolet radiation from tanning beds causes mutations in the skin and does DNA damage, leading to various types of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma being the most common.

"Just like tobacco smoke leads to lung cancer, ultraviolet radiation leads to skin cancer," Leachman said.

Exposure to ultraviolet light, she said, can also be addictive, giving off a "feel good" phenomenon that causes individuals to desire the effect and use tanning beds even more frequently.

"You go into a tanning bed for vanity reasons and you can die for vanity reasons," said MaryAnn Gerber, a 30-year-old skin cancer survivor who began using tanning beds at age 13. She said she screamed in disbelief when doctors provided the initial diagnosis six years ago.

The young adult said she followed all the rules at the tanning salons she visited over the years, including a gradual increase of exposure time and covering her face with a towel. After intensive surgery and treatment, Gerber formed a melanoma patient support group, called Sol Survivors, that meets monthly at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. The majority of participants, Gerber said, are young women and girls.

"Kids are getting around the current rules," she said. When Gerber speaks to large groups of teens, she tells them, "you guys are going to be the ugliest, oldest looking generation because of all the tanning you do."

The proposed law would make visiting a tanning salon without a parent, and without proper identification, a class C misdemeanor for individuals under 18 years of age. In Utah, a class C misdemeanor is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $750 fine.

Jones said business licenses of salons that patronize young teens would be revoked after just one violation. The state health department would be responsible for enforcing the rule if lawmakers and the governor ultimately adopt it.

Current rules require parental consent and a parent to be present when a person under 18 decides to get a tattoo or body piercing other than ear piercings.

"Why shouldn't we at least do that for something that is so harmful as a known carcinogen as UV radiation?" Jones said. "Parents have not only a right to know when their kids are going tanning, they have a responsibility to understand the carcinogenic nature of tanning beds and then to give an informed consent."

In addition to consent, regulation of tanning facilities would require parents to read information regarding the potential dangers of tanning, the bill states.

Jones said a total ban of minors using tanning beds was her intent with the bill and various "compromises" watered it down. But she said it is still important to monitor vendors "selling a dangerous product."

"If I never have to treat another melanoma related to indoor tanning, I'd be thrilled," said Dr. David Allen, head of the Utah Dermatology Society. He said results are not only disfiguring, but can be life-threatening.

If Utah adopts the bill as law, it will become the 18th state in the country to restrict minors from tanning bed use.

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