Tanning-bed enthusiasts say tax won't deter them

Nicole Murphy of Clifton Heights basks in the sun on the beach in Ocean City, N.J. She also uses indoor tanning salons.
Nicole Murphy of Clifton Heights basks in the sun on the beach in Ocean City, N.J. She also uses indoor tanning salons.
Posted: July 01, 2010

Fifteen-year-old Grace McCleary of West Chester visits a tanning salon about once a month. She likes the bit of year-round color it provides. For $6 she gets 20 minutes under the ultraviolet lights at a place within walking distance of her high school.

That visit could become more expensive on Thursday when a 10 percent federal tax takes effect. The levy is aimed at discouraging people from the practice, linked to rising skin cancer rates in young women.

Would the increase change her habit?

"Probably not," McCleary said, from her spot on the beach in Ocean City last week. Her mother foots the bill.

McCleary and others who lounged last week in the notorious Land of the Tanned - see MTV's Jersey Shore - said a few dollars tacked on wouldn't deter them. That's good news for the multibillion-dollar tanning industry. But advocates of the tax hope it will prompt more of a response than a simple recalculation of costs.

Like the tariff on cigarettes, the introduction of a tanning tax sends a message, said William James, vice chairman of the dermatology department at the University of Pennsylvania: Tanning beds are dangerous.

"It's going to help people understand that it's not just the local skin doctors that are over-the-top about this," said James, who is also president of the American Academy of Dermatology, which pushed for the tax. "It's the government and the [World Health Organization] and others who have said, 'This causes cancer. Let's do something about this.' "

The tax, which received a bad review from Jersey Shore star Snooki, was passed as part of the health-care overhaul signed by President Obama in March. It is projected to bring in about $2.7 billion in revenue.

The perpetually mahogany Snooki was quoted this spring saying that, if Sen. John McCain had been elected president, he wouldn't have passed the tanning tax. The Arizona Republican - who has had melanomas removed from his shoulder, arm, and nose - responded on Twitter: "I would never tax your tanning bed!" And he reminded her to wear sunscreen.

"This is nanny government," John Overstreet, executive director of the Indoor Tanning Association, said of the tax. "This is using government to try to tell people how to behave."

Overstreet said the "special-interest tax" is bound to reduce demand and hurt businesses that are struggling in the down economy.

Karon Coady, owner of Velocity Tanning in Egg Harbor Township, said she had not received any guidance from the government about how to implement the tax. But the salon she owns with her son and daughter-in-law, where monthly packages range from $50 to $100, will start to collect it this week.

The Coadys will offer a 10 percent discount to their regular customers to offset the increase, and they expect a bump in their spray-tan business, which is not subject to the tax.

"I think it's really sad that they're aiming at individuals," Coady said. "They're calling tanning a luxury. So is having your nails done or your hair, but they're not 10-percenting that."

The way Overstreet sees it, dermatologists didn't want to see taxes on the cosmetic services they administer, a proposal in the initial health-care bill. They offered the tanning tax instead, he said.

But, James said, the tax isn't about politics. It's about public health. One person dies from melanoma every hour, he said.

Seventy percent of the estimated 1 million tanning-salon users nationwide are women between ages 16 and 29, James said. The risk of melanoma increases 75 percent among people who use tanning beds before age 30, according to a report published last year by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The document labeled UV-emitting tanning beds as carcinogenic.

The 10 percent tax will mean a $3 increase on the one-month tanning package that Sarah Longino, 24, of Washington Township, buys about three times a year, when she has a special event to attend or is tired of being pale in winter.

To Longino, who sat near the water's edge as the UV index reached 10, the tax won't matter much. But, she said, her father recently gave her an article citing the risks of tanning. It made her think twice.

"That does more than the $3," she said.


Contact staff writer Chelsea Conaboy at 856-779-3893 or cconaboy@phillynews.com.

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