The days of teens heading to indoor tanning salons for a mid-winter glow or pre-prom tan appear to be numbered.
Ontario is set to become the latest province to ban youth under 18 from indoor tanning beds, under legislation introduced by the government Thursday. Quebec, B.C., Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador have created similar bans in recent years.
Last month, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced the federal government plans to introduce stronger health warnings telling consumers about the dangers of using tanning beds.
As little as five years ago, the tanning bed industry was largely under the radar. But in 2009, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, declared that tanning beds are carcinogenic to humans. The rapid creation of bans, restrictions and other warnings about tanning beds since then show how quickly the tide can turn in the face of scientific evidence.
"It's quite amazing," said Joanne Di Nardo, senior manager of public issues for the Canadian Cancer Society in Ontario. "All of a sudden, it's just an onslaught."
However, the tanning bed industry says it is being unfairly targeted by these restrictions and that it would make more sense to focus on improving equipment and operator training.
"The biggest problem with tanning equipment is if you don't know how to operate it," said Steven Gilroy, executive director of the Joint Canadian Tanning Association, an industry group.
It's a long-running debate between health organizations and the tanning industry, which continues to argue that indoor tanning is not linked to serious health risks.
However, Di Nardo points out that mounting evidence has found a connection between tanning beds and melanoma. Unlike the sun, indoor tanning salons can expose users to much higher levels of dangerous ultraviolet light.
That's why the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Dermatology Association and other health-oriented groups have decided to focus squarely on youth access to tanning beds. People who start tanning before age 35 have a 75 per cent higher risk of developing melanoma during their lives.
Gilroy said that the number of young people who use tanning beds is two to five per cent of the industry's client base and that they support the idea of introducing parental consent for people 18 and under.
But a survey conducted on behalf of the Canadian Cancer Society in 2012 found that nearly one in 10 young people between 12 and 17 in Ontario use tanning beds. Among young people in Grades 11 and 12, a total of 16 per cent use tanning beds.
The tanning industry is "directly appealing" to this cohort, Di Nardo said. She said tanning salons will often offer price discounts or other specials to coincide with prom and graduation season.