It made him feel good, made him feel lively. Soon, he was doing it almost every day. Austin Morrow was not yet 16 and he was hooked – on tanning.
“You leave (the salon) and you wish you could just go right back,” said Morrow, of Saco, now 17 and UV-free since November. “It’s so relaxing. You get out and you feel fresh and beautiful, because you’re tan.”
The atmosphere, the music, the lotion – it sucked him in. For about six months, trips to the tanning salon became a daily activity. His mother also tanned and gave her consent for his membership to the salon. But when she discovered a malignant cyst on her back, his outlook changed.
“I realize now that I wish I never would have done it,” said Morrow, whose experience is more extreme than most. “I don’t want it to shorten my life.”
Had a bill that is now before the Legislature been law a year ago, Morrow, as a minor under age 18, would never have been allowed to step into a booth or luxuriate in a bulb-laden bed. Proponents say the law would prevent harm to young people, similar to the way alcohol and tobacco are restricted to legal adults.
But salon owners and industry proponents say the measure would unfairly regulate what should be the purview of parents, and would further diminish business prospects.
The bill, coupled with a little-known provision of the 2010 federal health care overhaul that placed an additional 10 percent tax on tanning sales, could obliterate the industry, said Tracie Cunningham, executive director of the American Suntanning Association, a national trade and advocacy group for the indoor-tanning industry.
“Legislation remains our primary threat,” she said. “The UV light that comes from a tanning bed is the exact-same wavelength of the noonday sun.”
Now in the local industry’s high season, tanning salons in Maine are seeing an influx of pre-vacation and pre-prom tanners seeking a richer base of color before they flee to warmer climes or snap photos with their beaus.
One teen who plans to make a trip or two to the salon in the near future is Casey Foss, 18, who said she started tanning when she was about 16, mostly to establish a base tan or before picture-worthy events.
She said the proposed ban may go a step too far. Those ages 16 or 17, with their parents permission, are old enough to decide to tan, she said. The threat of skin afflictions is not a major deterrent for her because she visits so infrequently, she said.
“I don’t worry about it because I don’t go a lot,” Foss said.
A 2009 CDC survey put Maine’s death rate from melanoma at 20.4 to 23 deaths annually per 100,000 people. The national rate is 24.7 deaths per 100,000 per year. Men have higher rates of melanoma diagnosis than women nationally.
At Sun Tiki Tanning on Forest Avenue, owner Karla Moore, 41, said she is opposed to the ban.
“I think it will hurt a lot of tanning businesses,” Moore said Thursday inside her shop, where the walls are lined with island-themed bamboo slats. “I think it should be up to the parents to allow their children to tan or not.”
Like others who advocate for the industry, Moore said the exposure is more consistent when tanning indoors, while beaches and other outdoor activities offer unlimited opportunities to damage skin.
“This is a controlled environment,” she said. “Out there is not.”
Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at: