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Kate White

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Why Tanning Beds Are the Cigarettes of Our Age

Posted: 01/28/10 04:18 PM ET

When we first launched Cosmopolitan's Practice Safe Sun (PSS) campaign in 2006, it was in response to some shocking statistics I'd just learned: Melanoma had become the second most frequently reported cancer in women in their 20s. It was only later, though, that I began to hear the stories behind the stats, and they've been heartbreaking: Women in their 20s and 30s having multiple and disfiguring surgeries to remove the cancer and many dying of the disease. I learned this week about a young mother who died of melanoma five months after her twins were born. So often the common denominator among these women is that they loved to be tan--from the sun and often from tanning beds as well.

These stories have kept us highly motivated at Cosmo to make women aware of the dangers of both outdoor and indoor tanning. This week we took Cosmo's PSS initiative to a new level. We hosted a press conference in our offices at which Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Congressman Charlie Dent (R-PA) announced their plans to introduce The Tanning Bed Cancer Control Act, a key piece of bipartisan legislation that would expand federal regulation of tanning beds with the aim of limiting the strength of the UV rays emitted by tanning beds and the time consumers may be exposed to harmful radiation.

If you have any doubts about how dangerous beds are, consider the announcement made in July by the World Health Organization. They described tanning beds as definitely carcinogenic--putting them in the same category as cigarettes, asbestos, and uranium. If you tan indoors before age 30, your skin cancer risk rises by 75 percent (and nearly 70 percent of customers are young women). When we did an undercover report with ABC's 20/20, we found tanning salons routinely misrepresented the risks.

But at the same time that the evidence against tanning has become more clear, we've seen the continuing glorification of the tan in popular culture. Just check out the pervasive reality series, Jersey Shore. The daily routine is "GTL"--gym, tanning, laundry.

As Representative Maloney said when she introduced this new bill, tanning beds are the cigarettes of our age. We owe it to everyone, particularly to young women, to make sure that the risks of tanning are clearly communicated and understood and that tanning beds are regulated as tightly as devices with their risk-profile merit. Please write your congressperson and let him or her know you support this legislation.

And if you use a tanning bed, please stop. Now.