By Jerril Rechter, VicHealth CEO
Letter to the editor first published in the Herald Sun 10 February, 2012.
Harmful UV rays are a fact of life in a sun-drenched country, but solariums are a choice.
They are dangerous, unnecessary, outdated and irrefutably linked to cancer. They must be banned in Victoria and nationally, not just in NSW.
Before her death in 2007, Clare Oliver, 26, became a household name. She told her tragic story of skin cancer, and of a life lost far too early, to warn young women about the consequences of solariums. She made it clear that the pursuit of attractiveness was never worth losing your life over.
It has been estimated that each year in Victoria, 51 new melanomas, seven deaths and 294 new cases of deadly squamous cell carcinoma are attributed to solarium use.
Five years after Clare's death, 475 tanning beds still operate in Victoria, almost twice as many as the 254 in NSW.
Clare's family, elated at the news that NSW will ban them for good in 2014, are eager to see the day this announcement is made in Victoria.
In 2008, Victoria led the way in solarium regulation with a ban on use by under-18s and people with very fair skin.
But a 2009 "mystery shopper" audit of 30 sun bed operators by Cancer Council Victoria found 90 per cent failed to comply with at least one of their licence conditions, and 80 per cent gave access to minors who claimed to be 18. Half even allowed fair-skinned people to fry in these dangerous machines.
After Clare Oliver died, the Australian Solarium Association said her cancer was more likely to have been caused by spending time at the beach.
Clare had visited a solarium 20 times in her early 20s - taking advantage of a discounted package deal. She was told she should go every second day for the best results. Not once during those 20 visits were the risks explained to her by staff.
This is not an isolated case.
In 2008, a chain of popular Melbourne tanning salons was found guilty by the Federal Court of Australia for posting not one, but eight misleading claims on its website that tanning was a safe activity.
There is no safe level of solarium use.
Solariums emit levels of UV radiation up to three times as strong as the midday summer sun. A recent study found that 15 per cent of tanning beds even exceeded this level, and some emitted up to six times more UVA than midday summer sun.
Using a sun bed before you are 35 boosts your risk of melanoma by 75 per cent. And the more you use them the greater your risk increases, at any age.
An estimated one in six melanomas in young Australians aged 18-29 could be prevented if solariums were shut down.
Cancer Council Victoria and VicHealth, through the SunSmart program, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the Department of Health, have done a fantastic job to position Victoria as a national and international leader in solarium legislation, effectively reducing the number of solarium venues in Victoria by 65 per cent since introducing the new legislation in 2008.
It is time they were banned altogether. We need to do more to protect the lives of vulnerable, image-conscious young people who are often ignorant of the very real threat solariums pose.