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Professor’s Anti-Tan Essay on MSNBC Shows How Sun Scare Purveyors Have Lost Their Cool

Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

With the vitamin D message turning more heads to the value of regular non-burning sun exposure, many in the sun-scare community have been ramping up their anti-tan rhetoric in a last-ditch effort to defend their old-school sun-abstinence thinking on UV light and tanning.

The question is: Are anti-sun purveyors so gung-ho to turn the tide back against “the sunshine vitamin” that they would stoop to emotionally charged misrepresentation to make their case?

2008-06-30-unprofessional-tanningnews-copy.jpgIronically, a nationally distributed essay by a university ethics professor on NBC News web site this week, www.MSNBC.com, might have gone too far. Dr. Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bio-Ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, penned an acidic essay about tanning that oddly stoops to school ground name-calling to urge people to avoid any source of UV.

“When I asked one of my colleagues here at Penn, Dr. William James, a professor of dermatology, if the high school students had the right idea about getting a head start on a tan, he laughed out loud,” Caplan wrote.

“A tan, he said, represents nothing more than damage to the skin. It is the body trying to defend itself against an environmental hazard — too much UV light. In other words, indoor tanning gets you ready for the beach in the same way that getting scalded in a hot tub gets you ready to be boiled alive.”

Did Caplan go too far?

“For an ethics professor to say that a base tan — which, regardless of the source of UV, is natural and intended — is akin to scalding or boiling alive is nothing more than hyperbole, using an inappropriate analogy to make a point,” Smart Tan Vice President Joseph Levy wrote in a letter to University of Pennsylvania President Dr. Amy Gutmann.

“Caplan’s essay was not intellectual. It was a rant not befitting the director of Penn’s Bioethics program. At a time when the public health message about UV exposure needs to come back to center and be analyzed by cool heads, Caplan is guilty of that which he says he is condemning: Knowingly or unknowingly, he has misrepresented the whole story about sun, UV and tanning at best and has engaged in reckless disregard for the whole truth about UV at worst.”

Caplan — who is not trained in skin care or dermatology — continued in his essay, “So who are you going to listen to — a bunch of folks in white coats with lots of degrees who make money sawing cancerous bits off sun worshippers — or the guy with a store full of coffins with light bulbs at a strip mall? Don’t buy what the tanning industry is selling. Save your hide.”

In his letter to Gutmann, Smart Tan’s Levy offered to meet with Penn officials to discuss the full scope of science on UV and tanning. “To be fair to Caplan, we’re sure he has not been exposed to how many in academia have twisted the story. The best outcome here would be to use this unfortunate essay as an opportunity to set the record straight.”

To read Caplan’s essay click here.


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