Government urged to introduce sunbed controls
The government has been advised to introduce regulations on the use of sunbeds to protect young people against harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
The Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE) was established in 1985 to advise the government on the health effects of natural and manmade radiation.
A review of scientific evidence by the committee has now confirmed that UV radiation from sunbeds is capable of causing all types of skin cancer, as well as skin ageing and cataracts.
There are an estimated 8,000 sunbed outlets in the UK, many of which are thought to be used by children and young adults.
Experts concluded that sunbeds provide far greater doses of UV radiation than the midday Mediterranean sun and that the devices do not provide protection against future sun exposure.
Nor do the perceived benefits associated with the body's production of vitamin D outweigh the harmful consequences, which include a significantly elevated risk of skin cancer.
Report authors note that there were over 10,400 cases of malignant melanoma and 81,500 of non-melanoma skin cancer in 2006, and that these figures are rising.
In light of its findings, the committee has recommended a ban on the use of commercial sunbeds by under-18s, as well as a ban on the sale or hire of sunbeds to this age group.
COMARE also wants to see a registration process for all sunbed operators and strict regulations governing the standard of equipment.
Tanning salons ought to be staffed at all times and local authorities should be required to inspect them on a regular basis and be given the powers to take action against operators which break the law, they say.
Crucially, the committee calls for salons to be required to provide detailed written information to all clients on the health risks associated with sunbeds, and to ensure that all clients are given protective eyewear.
It also wants to see a ban on the promotion of unproven claims on the overall health benefits of using sunbeds by retailers and operators.
Finally, COMARE believes that public health campaigns should be stepped up to highlight the risks associated with UV radiation, particularly targeting children, and that further research should be carried out into the link between sunbeds and skin cancer and into the psychology behind tanning behaviour.
Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UK's head of policy, said: "We are delighted that our call for legislation on sunbeds is being backed by this influential radiation committee. The Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE) is supporting our bid to ban under-18s from using sunbeds, close salons that aren't supervised by trained staff and ensure information about the risks of using sunbeds is given to all customers. Now we want the government to act.
"The COMARE report clearly shows there are no health benefits from using sunbeds recreationally and we hope sunbed retailers who do advertise sunbeds as 'healthy' will take note of the recommendations and stop immediately.
"The rates of malignant melanoma - the most serious form of skin cancer - are rapidly rising in the UK and experts believe that, along with binge tanning on foreign holidays, using sunbeds is one of the main reasons. Introducing legislation would be a huge step in the right direction to help prevent so many people developing the disease."
In response to the report's publication, Gillian Merron, minister for public health, said: "Sunbeds can be dangerous - we must ensure that people who use them do so safely. If necessary we will look at new laws to protect young people.
"We commissioned this report to give us a better understanding of the issues around sunbeds and we will now consider the recommendations in full."