A Congressional report alleging that indoor tanning facility operators mislead clients about the risks and benefits of UV exposure and indoor tanning itself misstates facts about UV exposure and vitamin D.
Released today as minority investigative report from four Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, the politically charged report is already getting national media play.
“ABC News received an embargoed copy of the report in advance of its publication today and has already done a story,” Smart Tan Vice President Joseph Levy said. “This report was pure politics. It was not a true independent investigation, did not appear to follow legitimate research methods, presented opinion pieces as fact in its footnote citations and did not publish obvious citations to peer-reviewed reports that offered conflicting evidence to authors’ predispositions. ”
Indoor Tanning Association Executive Director John Overstreet was quoted in the ABC News story. “I don’t think you can draw conclusions from a report where a person is posing as a 16-year-old over the phone,” Overstreet told ABC. “Asking questions over the phone is not what they’re going to hear face-to-face with a parent beside them.”
The report alleged that sunbeds are an “ineffective” source of vitamin D production, despite the fact that peer-reviewed research has established exactly the opposite. (http://www.ajcn.org/content/80/6/1645.full.pdf)
The report is authored by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-California), Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colorado), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut), and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-New York). Maloney, for example, has already displayed bias in this issue and has ties with Cosmopolitan Magazine, which has lobbied extensively on behalf its pharmaceutical advertisers who mis-market sunscreen as a daily-use product instead of for its intended use to prevent sunburn when sunburn is possible.
To produce the report, congressional staff made phone calls to 300 tanning salons nationwide alleging on the phone that they were 16-year-old women who wanted to tan. Callers did not actually visit a tanning salon. The sample group was not random, nor did the survey appear to follow a uniform script, which is standard practice for such a survey. (See standards for this type of market research as published by the Marketing Research Association: http://www.marketingresearch.org/the-code-of-marketing-research-standards-0)
According to the report:
1) “Nearly all salons denied the known risks of indoor tanning.” What the report didn’t mention is that callers did not visit the salons, where every client is given appropriate information.
2) “Four out of five salons falsely claimed that indoor tanning is beneficial to a young person’s health.” The report did not mention how the callers were able to elicit that information. The publication suggests that the survey included a positive answer to that question if the salon operator referred the caller to a web site that contained balanced information.
3) “Salons used many approaches to downplay the health risks of indoor tanning.” Ironically, the report itself over-states the research, confusing correlation and causation. For example, melanoma researchers have not agreed on a mechanism by which UV and melanoma are causally related (melanoma is still more common on indoor workers than it is in outdoor workers, which would be impossible if its relationship with UV were straightforward), but the Report suggests they have.
4) “Tanning salons fail to follow FDA recommendations on tanning frequency.” As an informal phone poll, this survey was not capable of measuring that. In fact, no one visited a salon nor did anyone actually tan. Further, this misrepresents the intent of FDA recommended exposure schedules. “We are confident that all the salons actually follow accepted guidelines to ensure that clients do not sunburn, which is the intent of the regulations,” Levy said. “This study was not capable of showing otherwise.”
5) “The increased popularity of indoor tanning has coincided with a sharp rise in skin cancer.” American Cancer Society reports and National Cancer Institute data disagree with this statement. According to ACS’s “Cancer Facts & Figures” annual report, “During the 1970’s, the incidence rate of melanoma increased rapidly by about 6 percent per year. However, from 1981-2000, the rate of increase slowed to 3 percent per year and since 2000 melanoma incidence has been stable.”
“Melanoma risk is increasing rapidly in men over age 50, but nowhere in this report or others like it is that mentioned,” Levy said. “The report suggests that women under age 50 are the ones most at risk. That’s completely inaccurate.”
Smart Tan will continue to follow this report, and will work with the Indoor Tanning Association in its efforts to dispute the findings. ITA this morning released the following response:
ITA’s Response to the Charge that Tanning Salons Make Exaggerated Health Claims
While it indisputable that there are benefits to moderate exposure to ultraviolet light resulting in the natural production of Vitamin D, some of the statements attributed to salon employees in the report are indeed inconsistent with tanning industry standards and how ITA members are encouraged to train their staffs. The majority of professional salons across the nation implement professionally developed training programs for all staff members.
The methodology used in this report raises many questions about the report’s findings and conclusions. However, the Indoor Tanning Association expects its members to abide by all federal, state, and local requirements such as age restrictions, frequency, tanning schedules and those related to health claims.
The United States has some of the strictest regulations in the world governing the indoor tanning industry. The ITA strongly supports informed parental consent for anyone under the age of 18. If those who were conducting the survey had actually visited a professional tanning salon and were indeed under 18, they and their parents would have had a more thorough conversation about the tanning process and the potential risks of over exposure.
We would encourage policymakers to review the growing body of science produced by independent medical professionals that demonstrates the many health benefits of regular moderate exposure to ultraviolet light, either from the sun or from a sunbed. While the ITA questions the veracity of the study and its conclusions, it does highlight the need for us to reevaluate how our industry can do a better job of ensuring that ITA member salons are providing accurate and consistent information to their customers nationwide.