Sunbeds ‘should have graphic cancer warning signs like cigarettes’, support group says

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Support group Skin Cancer UK is calling on the Government to update legislation and make warning signs mandatory in tanning salons, saying the move could save many lives

Tanning salons should have graphic warning signs similar to those found on cigarette packets in order to warn customers about the dangers of using sunbeds, a support group has said.

The move could save lives, according to Skin Cancer UK, which is calling on the Government to update legislation and make warning signs mandatory. The support group’s chief executive Gill Nuttall said sunbeds are banned in “many countries”, including Australia and Brazil, “yet in the UK we don’t even warn people about the potential danger”.

“We’re asking for the Government to update its legislation and put warning signs into tanning salons much like we have for cigarettes or alcohol,” she added. “Sunbed use kills people needlessly, so the mandatory installation of warning signs feels like a small, but important change. It will save lives, simple as that.”

The call comes 13 years after the introduction of the Sunbed Regulation Act, which banned under 18s from using them. However, Skin Cancer UK has raised concerns that social media is fuelling a rise in tanning bed usage among younger people. It claims there has been more than 200 million searches for the term #sunbed on the video platform TikTok in the last 12 months.

In January, reality star Kim Kardashian posted a tour of her Sknn by Kim offices, which included a sunbed. She defended her use of tanning beds however, saying they help with her psoriasis. Cancer Research UK estimates that there are about 16,700 cases of melanoma, a type of skin cancer that can spread to other parts of the body, in the UK every year. However, predictions suggest this could rise to 26,500 by 2038-2040.

About 85 per cent of cases are caused by exposure to too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation. According to the NHS, sunbeds can emit larger doses of UV rays than the midday tropical sun. The health service also warned that frequent exposure to UV rays under the age of 25 leads to a greater risk of developing skin cancer in later life, along with sunburn in childhood.

Former sunbed user Adele Hughes, 44, from Liverpool, was diagnosed with the disease in 2019, at the age of 39. She told the PA news agency she started using sunbeds in 1996, when she was around 16 years old, but would not use them “all the time”. “If a special event was coming up, like a family party, I would start going on a month before,” she said. “I was never a weekly user, but whenever I could fit in a sunbed session I would go.

“That went on until I moved away to university, in about 1998. I would occasionally use them at university too. I was in Stoke-on-Trent at the time and even then they were on every corner. Looking back I don’t recall any warnings or anything about skin cancer. There was no education there regarding how bad they were.”

Ms Hughes stopped using sunbeds altogether when she moved to Asia in 2008, although she had regular skin checks due to having a lot of moles. She had two removed in 2019. “They came back as melanoma, which totally blindsided me,” the mum of two told PA.

The cancer had spread to Ms Hughes’ lymph nodes. After having them removed, she underwent immunotherapy, which helps the immune system recognise and fight cancer cells. “I finished treatment in 2021,” she added. “I’m coming up to two years all clear. Every six months I have scans and check ups.”

However, Ms Hughes said she now lives “scan to scan” and is calling for change. “I definitely want to see at least graphic warnings like we have on cigarette packets,” she said. “At least it’s an interim until we can get sunbeds banned because that’s the ultimate goal. They’re banned in Australia, so I can’t see why not here. If that had been me at 16 seeing those images, I would have thought twice.”

Ross Robinson, 40, from Essex, who noticed a lesion on his back after extensive sunbed use, is also calling for a change in the law. He described the rise in sunbed use as “alarming and of deep concern”. “We need to keep having this discussion so that more information is available, and people can be educated on how sunbed use dramatically increases the risk of developing melanoma which is the deadliest form of skin cancer,” Mr Robinson said.

“Our skin is the body’s largest organ and when we tan it’s our body’s reaction to being attacked by UV rays, moderate exposure to sunlight is healthy but consistent exposure from sunbeds is deadly. This is why I am in support of Melanoma Law and updating the current sunbed regulation.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We recognise the risks of UV radiation from sunbeds in causing skin cancer, particularly among young people. That’s why the Sunbeds Act prohibits people under 18 from using them, and we keep the Act under constant review to ensure it remains fit for purpose. We encourage anyone thinking of using a sunbed to consider the risks first.”

Skin Cancer UK was set up by Ms Nuttall, the ex-chief executive of the charity Melanoma UK. The Charity Commission is currently investigating Melanoma UK after concerns were raised about financial controls and unauthorised trustee benefit.

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