By Guest Blogger Liza Engstrom, Masters of Public Health student in the Health Behavior program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Imagine a gym or fitness center that offers free cigarettes to its patrons. The lobby has a basket positioned on a table in the entryway full of cigarette packs and lighters, with a sign that reads “Members Smoke Free!” Now imagine gym-goers who see that sign and think: “Wow, now I can take up the habit of smoking without the added cost of buying cigarettes. And if a fitness center is offering them as a free service, they must be good for my health!”
Does this sound absurd? With all the existing research on the link between cigarettes and cancer, it seems very unlikely that a gym would promote tobacco smoking. But this is the case for another dangerous and addictive product. Instead of free cigarettes, many gyms now offer free indoor tanning.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer lists indoor suntanning under the highest risk category for cancer, deemed “carcinogenic to humans,” placing sunbeds in the same category as asbestos, arsenic, and tobacco products — and higher than well-regulated substances like lead! Yet businesses install tanning devices as if it were no different than adding a pool, sauna, or tennis court.
Gyms are not the only businesses that offer tanning as a free service. Apartment owners, especially those that cater largely to university students, now offer sunbeds to their residents. In the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, more than 10 gyms and apartments offer free tanning as an amenity.
In targeting college students, these businesses are putting at risk those most vulnerable to tanning’s cancer-causing effects. Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults ages 25-29 and the second most common for individuals aged 15-29. What’s more, research shows that use of tanning beds before the age of 35 increases one’s risk for melanoma by 87%.
As the recent JID article “Comprehensive Evaluation of Indoor Tanning Regulations: A 50-State Analysis, 2012” shows, many states, including North Carolina, are in the process of issuing a ban on indoor tanning for children under 18 . But this will do nothing to protect young college students who are equally susceptible.
Let’s sever the link between tanning and health by disallowing fitness centers to position tanning beds alongside weights and treadmills. Indoor tanning should not be offered as a free service anywhere.