Australia makes the sun tan illegal

Not for the first time new laws are being based on dubious science which have unintended consequences

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Solariums and sun beds are in the process of being banned in New South Wales
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David Atherton
On 6 August 2012 08:48

What James Delingpole is to George Monbiot, yours truly is to Professor Simon Chapman.

If I was to return the ad hominems I would be calling him a buffoon and a clown. Instead I look upon Chapman as a typical Australian. An Englishman who has been out in the sun for too long.

I am led to believe that his amply padded seat at the University of New South Wales is the result of a refund from the charm school. Heading up the aging covers band, 'The Original Faux Pas,' he lurches from one piece of state nannying to the next. He is currently aiding and abetting the banning of solariums and sun beds in the state of New South Wales (NSW).

The campaign began with the death of Clare Oliver, who blamed her malignant skin cancer on sun beds. Last time I looked, Australia was God's own country for that bright light up in the sky and going for an artificial sun tan is the epitome of taking coals to Newcastle.

NSW Environment Minister Robyn Parker says "..the Government has agreed to ban tanning beds from 2014. "It is a number one carcinogen. It's equivalent to asbestos."  The World Health Organization's (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer ".. has classified UV-emitting tanning devices as "carcinogenic to humans." 

Proponents of the ban claim that the use of sunbeds raises the risk of melanoma skin cancer by 98 percent, or 20 percent according to this report.

In this paper the methodology is described: "During the 45-minute telephone interview, participants were also asked to recall their sun exposure at 10, 15, 20, 30 and 40 years of age." And "Participants also reported their skin, eye colour, natural hair colour at age 18 years, usual tanning and sunburn response to prolonged or repeated exposure of skin to sunlight, the number of moles (nevi) covering the body (described pictorially as none, few, some, many), freckling, and were asked to have someone count the number of all moles on their back." 

In my opinion some of the results while pointing to a raised risk, are not particularly statistically significant and the methodology suspect based on a 45 minute phone call.

There are dissenting papers of course. This British paper found that the increase from "..2.16 to 2.54 cases per 100,000 per year." They thought it was coincidence "..diagnostic drift which classifies benign lesions as stage 1 melanoma", especially as the melanomas "..did not correspond to the sites of lesions caused by solar exposure." 

This study found no statistical correlation. "Ever use of sunbeds gave an adjusted OR of 1.19 (95 percent CI 0.84-1.68) (P=0.33). The risk of melanoma did not increase with increasing hours or years of sunbed exposure.

So the jury is out on the evidence. Also, is Australia overstating the problem? Australia has about a third of the population of the UK and the number of malignant melanoma deaths in 2010 was 2749.

Then you have the added problem that ultra violet (UV) rays are a source of vitamin D. Not only does it protect us from rickets, the softening of bones, it is also thought to be a major protection all types of cancer. Even the IARC says

"Ecological studies, mainly conducted in the USA, have shown an increasing risk of several cancers and other chronic conditions with increasing latitude of residence, suggesting that these diseases might be related to vitamin D status. This 'vitamin D hypothesis' was first reinforced by evidence that vitamin D can inhibit cell proliferation and promote apoptosis in vitro, and secondly, by the discovery that several tissues could locally produce the physiologically active form of vitamin D, ,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, which has anti carcinogenic properties."

The number of cancer deaths in the UK in 2010 were 157,275 and Australia 43,000.  Is it possible that the reduction in UV exposure may increase the incidence of all cancers, as the numbers for skin cancers seems to be relatively very low?

Of course there are unintended consequences from state interference. Firstly unemployment has gone up with the number solariums reducing from 436 to 143 salons. Not only that, the expensive beds are appearing for sale on eBay, Gumtree and Trading Post. At knock down prices too.

"The former head of the Australian Solarium Association, Mark Konemann, has sold two machines on eBay in the past fortnight for $1000 each. The buyers planned to use the sunbeds at home.

''Some of these beds are worth $15,000 to $20,000 and I've seen some online being sold for $500 or less,'' Mr Konemann said. ''This is very powerful equipment and these commercial machines can do some damage if you don't follow the rules. You're going to get idiots who will use them all day and burn themselves silly."

''When people come into a salon they have forms to sign, there are warning signs and it's controlled but at home there are no controls.''

However the bottomless pit of the state purse, according to Professor Simon Chapman, should be helping out. "It would be a ''public service'' for state governments to buy the machines at the low market price and destroy them, or to outlaw reselling them.

''The biggest risks are for young people in their teens and early 20s. Because it's not a commercial premise you could use the thing as much as you wanted,'' Professor Chapman said. ''They're completely outside the reach of any regulation or inspection and that's a real problem.''

Whose fault is that Chapman?

In conclusion I am writing again about laws based on dubious science with unintended consequences. The sad thing is that the overall death rate, especially from cancer, may rise.

However they have told us how to live their lives and can go to bed knowing that they know better than us. 

David Atherton is Chairman of Freedom2Choose, which seeks to protect the informed choices of consenting adults on the issues of smoking. Follow him on Twitter: @DaveAtherton20

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