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Friday, 6 March 2009

BMA Cymru steps up calls for sunbeds to be regulated

BMA Cymru Wales is talking to young people at a school in Swansea today about the potential health risks of using sunbeds.

For at least five years now we have been calling on the UK Government to regulate sunbed use after research showed that some people are having more than 100 sunbed sessions in a single year.

Although the UK Government doesn’t recommend the use of sunbeds, there is currently no training or regulation associated with their use. The World Health Organisation has said that there is ‘an urgent need to reduce the health and environmental impact of increased ultra-violet exposure’ and has called for public education about this issue. And that is exactly what we are trying to do by organising for a consultant dermatologist and a skin cancer survivor to chat to school pupils about the dangers.

Recent cases like Kirsty’s just go to show how important it is that we have a public health campaign in Wales to highlight this.

A suntan is not a sign of good health; a tan, even when there is no burning, always means that the skin has been damaged. It’s ironic that people use sunbeds because they think they’ll look better and yet they will probably end up looking old prematurely and possibly even getting skin cancer. Just one session a month will double the average individual's annual dose of ultraviolet radiation.

Here are just some of the health risks that spring to mind when people use sunbeds:

• Developing certain types of skin cancer – the risks appear to be greatest for the young, with the chances of developing a tumour increasing by up to 20% per decade of sunbed use before the age of 56.
• Premature ageing – people tend to use sunbeds to look better but they could end up with leathery, wrinkled and sagging skin.
• The eyes (in particular the cornea) are very prone to damage from tanning equipment – it is recommended that sunbed users wear protective goggles, but research shows that people may not use them even if they are provided.
• The immune system – increasing evidence shows that sunbeds have an immunosuppressive effect.
BMA Cymru is urging government ministers again, to pass a bill that would compel local authorities to issue licences regulating cosmetic tanning salons.

The bill would require providers of cosmetic tanning facilities, or equipment, to obtain a licence to operate from the local authority. The licensing conditions would be set so that local authorities could:
• Prevent the use of sunbeds by children
• Protect adults from over-exposure
• Ensure that sunbed users are supervised
• End the use of coin-operated machines
• Ensure that sunbed sessions are monitored and limited
• Provide health risk information in sunbed parlours
• Inspect premises

The introduction of such a bill would hopefully mean adults can make informed choices about the risks of sunbed use. The conditions of licensing would require staff to be on premises, which would help to prevent over-exposure to ultraviolet light. It should also reduce the number of burns and accidents currently attributed to the misuse of unsupervised equipment and would drive up standards.

I wonder how many more unfortunate cases like Kirsty’s we will hear about, before any of the above actually happens?


  1. This is a great campaign by the BMA to raise awareness of the danger of using sunbeds - lets hope it makes a difference!

  2. John Jenkins, BMA Cymru Wales9 March 2009 at 16:32

    The reaction of the pupils at Bishop Gore School in Swansea on Friday was heartwarming. To hear of the dangers of using sunbeds at first hand from a young lady who had suffered skin cancer, obviously hit home.

    We shall be visiting other schools to spread the message over the next few months.

  3. Alcohol-related crime and disorder is more of an issue, surely? Exactly how many deaths per year in Wales are as a result of sunbed use?

    In Wales it is estimated that alcohol costs some £750million a year. Each year in Wales, about 30,000 bed days are related to alcohol, 15% of admissions being due to alcoholic intoxication. Almost half of the victims of violence report that they believe that their assailant was under the influence of alcohol.

    Alcohol plays a role in around a third of cases of violence between spouses and partners and some 64,000 Welsh children are adversely affected by parental alcohol problems.

    Perpetrators of sexual assault have often been drinking, and many are also chronic heavy drinkers. Almost two-thirds of male prisoners and over a third of female prisoners have problems with alcohol.

    Alcohol-related deaths in Wales have also risen markedly over the last twenty years. Those who do die are dying younger than a decade ago.

    Alcohol accounts directly for some 8,000 potential years of life lost in Wales and indirectly for another 5,000.

  4. Dear Anonymous,

    You are quite right to point out the devastating and very real consequences alcohol misuse can cause, and I have highlighted this several times here on this blog

    The BMA has been consistently calling for the following changes to licensing laws for some time now

    • Higher taxes on alcoholic drinks and this increase should be proportionate to the amount of alcohol in the product.
    • An end to irresponsible promotional activities like happy hours and two-for-one offers.
    • Standard labels should be displayed on all alcoholic products that clearly state alcohol units, recommended guidelines for consumption and a warning message advising that exceeding these guidelines may cause the individual and others harm.
    • The legal limit for the level of alcohol permitted while driving should be reduced from 80mg/100ml to 50mg/100ml throughout the UK.

    That isn't to say however that tighter regulations around the sunbed industry aren't also needed, as I'm sure you're aware of the significant harm that can be caused by these also (for instance, the recent case of Kirsty McRae who suffered first degree burns after using a sunbed).

    It was startling to hear first-hand just how many Swansea school pupils used sunbeds at a recent awareness event BMA Cymru held, and how little they knew of the possible damage they could be doing to themselves.

    And then there are other (and again very real) public health issues surrounding smoking, drugs, obesity, the list goes on!

    I'm not sure you can say which (if any) should be given precedence.

    May be some of our Public Health doctors would like to join the debate...


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