few days ago, I helped my daughter move into her freshman dorm room at college. Part of my responsibility as her mom is preparing her for the newfound freedom that comes with starting this new chapter in her life, and urging her to be responsible. So we had “the conversation.” Unlike those we had as she entered middle and high school, this one was about protecting herself from melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
Fortunately, my daughter attends a college that doesn’t allow tanning beds on campus. Other students aren’t as fortunate — almost half of U.S. colleges have tanning beds available in school facilities, and 14 percent let students pay for tanning beds with campus cash cards.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, has labeled indoor tanning devices to be “carcinogenic to humans.” So why do so many college campuses have them?
About a year ago, I was treated for stage 1 and in-situ melanomas. My experience with this diagnosis and treatment is part of what led me to join the staff of the Melanoma Research Foundation to help raise awareness of the dangers of this cancer. As a melanoma survivor, and a mother, I’m appalled that some institutions of higher learning allow tanning beds on campus and promote their accessibility. We might as well be handing our young adults cartons of cigarettes.
Much like tobacco use and alcohol abuse, melanoma is a public health issue. Nearly 90,000 Americans are diagnosed with this largely preventable type of skin cancer each year, and close to 10,000 die from it. Melanoma is the second most common type of skin cancer in women ages 15-29. There is a clear link between melanoma and exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun or from tanning beds. Data show that visiting a tanning bed even once before the age of 30 can increase an individual’s chance of developing melanoma by 75 percent.
With all we know about the dangers of tanning, why haven’t colleges gone indoor tanning-free?
The National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention, which my organization works with, educates colleges on the dangers of tanning and what they can do to protect students. Schools are starting to do the right thing.
Take East Tennessee State University. Last year, it answered the surgeon general’s 2014 call to action to prevent skin cancer by promoting a skin smart education campaign on campus, prohibiting indoor tanning services in university buildings, and preventing the use of campus debit cards for indoor tanning services in off-campus entities. For these efforts, it was the first higher education institution in the nation to be designated an Indoor Tan-Free Skin Smart Campus by the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention. I applaud the council’s work on college campuses and encourage all colleges and universities to become Indoor Tan-Free Skin Smart Campuses.
If your child’s campus is one of the many that have tanning beds in school facilities, let administrators know this is unacceptable — especially if the institution is affiliated with a medical school or receives funding for cancer research. When a school is working to find a cure for cancer, yet giving students easy access to tanning beds, is it actually committed to eradicating cancer? Real commitment includes banning tanning beds from the campus.
Allowing tanning beds on campuses is a disservice to young adults entering a new stage in their lives, one in which societal pressures to be beautiful and cool often reach a peak. As parents, loved ones, professors, and education professionals, we owe it to our kids and students to do what we can to protect them from preventable diseases like melanoma.
So when you drop your son or daughter at college and you have the talk about making the right decisions, make sure you remind them they are beautiful in the skin they’re in and they don’t need to tan. It could save their life.
Beth Allgaier is the director of corporate relations for the Melanoma Research Foundation.