Tanning ads commonly seen in high school newspapers

April 17, 2006

A small study found that nearly half of high schools in the Denver area contained tanning advertisements in their newspapers, according to an article in the April issue of Archives of Dermatology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

The ultraviolet (UV) radiation used in tanning parlors is a classified carcinogen, according to background information in the article. As tanning has become more popular among teen girls, the incidence of skin cancer has increased among young women. The World Health Organization recommends that individuals younger than age 18 not use UV tanning devices, but there is no restriction on advertising such devices to youth in the United States.

Scott Freeman, M.D., University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center, Aurora, and colleagues examined the frequency of tanning advertisements in 131 newspapers from 23 public high schools in three Colorado counties. All of the papers were published between 2001 and 2005, most commonly in 2004.

Tanning advertisements were found in newspapers from 11 (48 percent) of the 23 schools. Eighteen separate establishments placed the 40 tanning advertisements, 15 of which offered unlimited tanning for periods of up to four months. Nearly half (19) of the ads mentioned discounts requiring student identification or labeled as "prom specials," while two ads (5 percent) mentioned parental consent or accompaniment.

"UV-free tanning options, especially the use of spray-on application systems ... offer teenagers and tanning salons an alternative to UV tanning," the authors write. One-third (13) of the advertisements featured these options.

"The escalating cost of treating skin cancers mandates a public health policy response," the authors conclude. "The banning of youth-directed advertising of other carcinogens, namely tobacco, provides a model for public policy response. ... Further advocacy of legislative restrictions on tanning marketing to adolescents should be adopted."
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(Arch Dermatol. 2006; 142: 460-462. Available pre-embargo to the media at www.jamamedia.org.)

Editor's Note: This study was supported by the Colorado Department of Health and the Environment, Denver; a grant from the National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Md.; and the Department of Dermatology, University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center.

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