Local salon operator Mike Nafekh said he's been ahead of the curve for a while with his chain's policies about keeping teens out of tanning beds.
Since 2002, Hamilton-based Sol'exotica has complied with safety guidelines in regards to restricting tanning access to people under the age of 18, Nafekh said. The company, which has 24 locations across southwestern Ontario, banned teens outright last August when the city of Oakville passed a bylaw saying people under 18 cannot use tanning beds.
Now, the Ontario Liberals are following suit. The party introduced legislation last Thursday that would ban tanning services to people under 18.
“I think what the government is trying to do is repair one spoke on a wheel,” said Nafekh, adding that the Liberals should go one step further and call for industry-wide certification for tanning salon staff.
Catherine Lundy, manager for the Canadian Cancer Society's Hamilton-Wentworth branch, said she approves of the legislation, but for a different reason.
“The indoor tanning industry has not consistently followed Health Canada's voluntary safety guidelines,” said Lundy, referring to a 2008 audit conducted by the Cancer Society and Public Health, as well as investigative reports conducted by the media.
Lundy added this is a positive step in the battle against skin cancer and that additional citizen action will save lives.
But Steven Gilroy, executive director of the Joint Canadian Tanning Association, doesn't agree.
“What we want is professional standards that control the equipment,” he said. “It's like driving a car. You're not going to jump into somebody's car if they don't have a driver's license.”
Gilroy stressed the idea of responsible tanning, saying people should know their skin type and be aware of any risks, at any age. He said that self-serve tanning should be banned and legislation should focus on making sure services are only offered by trained professionals.
“There's no such thing as a healthy tan,” said Dr. Elaine McWhirter, a medical oncologist at Juravinski Cancer Centre and assistant professor at McMaster University. “We need to change our perceptions of that. If people still really feel they need the colour, there are self-tanning products. But ideally, a shift to enjoying the skin you're in would be a wonderful thing.”
This proposed legislation is positive news for Ontarians, she said, and that it is a way to protect young adults from undue exposure.
“There is provincial data showing us that up to 20 per cent of youth in Grade 12 have used a tanning bed at least once,” said McWhirter, adding that this 2012 data has doubled in number since 2006. "One per cent of Grade 7s have been in a tanning bed and I think that this is gravely concerning news."
For those who do enjoying tanning, Sol'Exotica's Nafekh said the gloomy Canadian winter is factor that drives people to salons.
"We just don't get enough sunlight," said Nafekh. "When you go in a tanning bed, you feel great... But I really don't have a problem following if that is what the government is mandating."