The burn­ing ques­tion of sunbed safety

How dan­ger­ous are sunbeds? Should they be reg­u­lated? Deputy edi­tor Jenny Ling talks to melanoma sur­vivors who want them banned and the ex­perts who are di­vided on their place in New Zealand.

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS -

She was a ‘‘typ­i­cal teenager’’ who en­joyed fre­quent sunbed ses­sions dur­ing breaks at her hair­dress­ing sa­lon.

But a few years later Jessie Ani­toni wished she had not.

The 26-year-old had mul­ti­ple surg­eries for melanomas on her neck, leg and arm. She is con­vinced the sunbed ses­sions are to blame.

Now liv­ing in Aus­tralia where sunbeds will be banned by the end of the year, Ani­toni wants them ban­ished from New Zealand too.

‘‘Sunbeds are a death sen­tence,’’ she says.

‘‘Ev­ery ses­sion’s like nail­ing an­other nail in the cof­fin.’’

It was at a Palmer­ston North hair­dress­ing sa­lon that Ani­toni started tan­ning. She worked there part-time as a 16-year-old and would tan dur­ing breaks.

She moved to Bris­bane in 2009.

Five months later she was di­ag­nosed with the first of sev­eral melanomas.

It was re­moved from the back of her left knee and 18 months later she had an­other re­moved from her arm.

Then in 2012 she had a skin tag re­moved from her neck. Tests showed it was metastatic — mean­ing it had spread to other parts of the body.

‘‘Scans showed it had spread quite rapidly, so I was rushed into theatre the next morn­ing,’’ she says.

‘‘I spent 10 hours in the op­er­at­ing theatre to have it all re­moved.’’

There are no reg­u­la­tions gov­ern­ing sunbed use in New Zealand. There is a vol­un­tary in­dus­try stan­dard stat­ing no-one with pale skin or aged un­der 18 should use them, but the Min­istry of Health ad­mits many op­er­a­tors do not fol­low the guide­lines.

That is all about to change and Auck­land Coun­cil is lead­ing the charge in reg­u­lat­ing so­lar­i­ums.

From July 1, all Auck­land com­mer­cial ser­vices that risk break­ing, burn­ing or pierc­ing the skin will have to be li­censed.

Sunbed op­er­a­tors will have to com­ply with a new code of prac­tice that in­cludes ban­ning their use for those aged un­der 18.

There are 24 li­censed sunbed op­er­a­tors in Auck­land. Ten more will need to be li­censed un­der the new by­law, coun­cil en­vi­ron­men­tal health man­ager Mervyn Chetty says.

They will be checked an­nu­ally by the coun­cil’s en­vi­ron­ment and health of­fi­cers.

The Can­cer So­ci­ety and Melanoma Foun­da­tion want other coun­cils to fol­low Auck­land’s lead. The or­gan­i­sa­tions are part of the sunbed ac­tion group to reg­u­late and ban un­su­per­vised sunbeds and their use by those un­der 18.

A par­lia­men­tary bill that would have seen that hap­pen na­tion­wide has stalled.

Melanoma Foun­da­tion chief ex­ec­u­tive Linda Flay says the de­lay is dis­ap­point­ing.

‘‘Peo­ple don’t re­alise the harm that’s be­ing done by them.

‘‘They’re re­ally ous,’’ she says.

Flay says Auck­land Coun­cil’s new by­law is ‘‘fan­tas­tic’’.

‘‘It’s some­thing we can do to min­imise harm.

‘‘It’d be great to see the rest of the coun­try fol­low.’’

Can­cer So­ci­ety spokes­woman Penny White says peo­ple should avoid any type of ar­ti­fi­cial UV ra­di­a­tion tan­ning de­vice for cos­metic pur­poses.

‘‘There’s been a clear link be­tween skin can­cer and so­lar­i­ums,’’ White says.

‘‘We wouldn’t ad­vise peo­ple to use them.

‘‘There are risks as­so­ci­ated with so­lar­ium use and

dan­ger- peo­ple should be aware of these.’’ New Zealand and Aus­tralia have among the high­est melanoma rates in the world.

But some say ban­ning sunbeds is not the an­swer.

Dr Ron Baker from Molecheck Re­muera says most of his pa­tients have sun dam­age caused by sun­shine.

He agrees with the ban for un­der-18s but says for the rest of us ‘‘ed­u­ca­tion is the key’’. ‘‘If some­body wants to use sunbeds for a brief pe­riod of time, like be­fore a hol­i­day to avoid be­ing burned by the sun, they should be able to,’’ he says.

‘‘It’s ex­ces­sive use of sunbeds for tan­ning that’s the prob­lem.

‘‘Ex­ces­sive sunbed us­age will in­crease your risk of skin can­cer just like ex­ces­sive sun­burn­ing.

‘‘But what are you go­ing to do, reg­u­late how of­ten peo­ple go to the beach?’’

In­door Tan­ning As­so­ci­a­tion of New Zealand spokes­woman Kirsty Ethynes wel­comes the new by­law but also does not agree with a com­plete ban.

‘‘The is­sue is not sunbeds, the is­sue is over­ex­po­sure.

‘‘We’ve got a lot of peo­ple with vi­ta­min D in­suf­fi­cien­cies in New Zealand.’’

It should be about choice for peo­ple, Ethynes says.

‘‘They should be putting money and time into ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple about the dan­gers and ben­e­fits of sun and sunbeds.

‘‘It’s about do­ing it re­spon­si­bly.’’

Con­sumer NZ also says sunbeds should be reg­u­lated and cur­rent stan­dards made manda­tory. Its most re­cent sur­vey found two-thirds of sunbed op­er­a­tors did not meet safety re­quire­ments.

Matt Adams has been in the sunbed tan­ning busi­ness for 14 years and has owned Sun­set Tan in Mt Eden for seven.

‘‘I’ve been push­ing for the vol­un­tary stan­dards to be made manda­tory for years,’’ he says.

‘‘It won’t re­ally af­fect any­thing be­cause most re­spectable tan­ning sa­lons al­ready ad­min­is­ter it.’’

Adams does not see a com­plete ban hap­pen­ing.

He says in­door tan­ning is not dan­ger­ous.

‘‘Al­low­ing your body to be sub­ject to any­thing in ex­treme quan­ti­ties will cause harm.’’

Badly scarred: Jessie Ani­toni af­ter get­ting a melanoma re­moved in 2012. She is con­vinced it was caused by sunbed use.

Op­er­a­tion time: Jessie Ani­toni dur­ing treat­ment to get melanomas re­moved in 2012.

Healthy mum: Jessie Ani­toni with her son Ru­bin.

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