April 25, 2006

Tanning Salon Ads Common in High School Newspapers

By Amy Norton

NEW YORK -- A new study suggests that many high school newspapers carrying ads for tanning salons, despite the cancer risk associated with indoor UV rays.

Researchers found that nearly half of the 23 Denver-area high schools in their study allowed tanning-salon ads in the school newspaper. The ads often targeted teens with "prom specials" and deep discounts for "unlimited" tanning.

Such offers are particularly concerning since they aim to get teens into the salon on a regular basis, said Dr. Robert P. Dellavalle, an associate professor of dermatology at the University of Colorado at Denver Health Sciences Center and the study's senior author.

Recent research, he noted in an interview, has suggested that tanning can become addictive, possibly because UV rays trigger the release of feel-good chemicals called endorphins.

Dellavalle and his colleagues report their findings in the April issue of the Archives of Dermatology.

The UV radiation emitted from sunlamps and tanning beds is classified as a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization, and research points to a connection between teenage girls' growing use of tanning salons and a rise in skin cancer rates among young women.

Like the case with smoking, Dellavalle said, most people who tan are aware that there are long-term risks yet do it anyway. But unlike the case with tobacco, there are no ad restrictions in the United States that prevent tanning salons from courting minors.

Going into the current study, Dellavalle said, the researchers knew that some high school papers run ads from tanning salons, but it wasn't clear how common it might be.

To investigate, they contacted 57 public high schools in three Colorado counties. Of the 34 that had newspapers that accepted commercial advertisements, 23 provided sample issues.

Of these schools, the researchers found that about half (48 percent) had a tanning salon ad in at least one newspaper issue. And about half of these ads featured special promotions aimed at teenagers.

Some ads, Dellavalle noted, did mention the salon's UV-free options, like spray-on tanning systems.

"We want the tanning industry to not target their UV tanning services to minors," he said. Legislators could restrict the industry's advertising practices, Dellavalle noted, but more immediately, schools could ban such ads. He believes that "there is a responsibility on the part of the newspapers."

SOURCE: Archives of Dermatology, April 2006.