Cronkite Header

Cronkite News has moved to a new home at Use this site to search archives from 2011 to May 2015. You can search the new site for current stories.

Melanoma survivor urges lawmakers to bar minors from tanning beds

Email this story
Print this story

Christine Nelson said there’s a reason a tanning bed looks like a coffin. A melanoma survivor, Nelson said she has had numerous surgeries and takes eight doses of a chemotherapy drug every day.

And she said it’s all because she decided to add a little color to her skin with indoor tanning sessions 30 years ago.

“I didn’t lay out in the sun more than anyone else,” Nelson said. “But within weeks of me going to the tanning bed, my mole changed. And that’s when everything in my life changed.”

In front of advocates and lawmakers Wednesday during Cancer Awareness Day at the Capitol, Nelson called for a law to help others avoid her fate by barring minors from tanning beds.

She fought back tears as she talked about the strain fighting melanoma has put on her family.

“Melanoma is hard on a marriage,” she said.

The event, organized by the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, had those affected by cancer meeting with their lawmakers to seek for support on legislation dealing with cancer.

They also advocated for a bill, which has won Senate approval, that would allow patients with chronic diseases to refill multiple prescriptions at the same time.

Brian Hummell, Arizona director of government relations for the group, said legislation to keep minors from using tanning beds is also among his organization’s top priorities. This year’s version of the bill wasn’t assigned to a committee in the House.

Hummell said he hopes Nelson and other melanoma survivors’ stories will persuade lawmakers to take up the tanning bed issue in 2016.

“We definitely have science on our side. That’s always good. But sometimes it takes a personal story to convince legislators that this is the right thing to do and the right time to do it,” he said.

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, the increased UV radiation in tanning beds is a primary risk for skin cancer.

And according to a study published in the Archives of Dermatology, the number of adolescents reporting the use of tanning beds increased significantly over the past 20 years.

Nelson, the melanoma survivor, said teenage girls in particular will use tanning beds because they feel under constant pressure to look good.

A high school teacher, she said she saw many young girls in her classes use tanning beds, especially before prom season. Nelson said even her own daughter asked to have indoor tanning sessions in high school.

“There’s always the magazines and everything saying, ‘It’s glorious to be tan,’ and, ‘You look better tan,” and I think that draws a lot of young girls in,” Nelson said.

But minors are particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of UV radiation because their skin is not yet fully developed, according to a study published in the International Journal of Consumer Studies.

Hummell said nine states have already have laws banning the use of tanning beds for anybody under the age of 18.

“More and more states are starting to see the light on this issue,” he said. “More and more people are understanding that these devices are not good, especially for the young people as they’re developing.”

Nelson said one of the obstacles facing this legislation is that not enough people realize the severity of skin cancer.

“Unfortunately, I see so many people pass away quickly. I feel lucky. I do. I feel like I’ve skated out of death,” she said. “I count my blessings every day.”