Tanning bill spurs heated debate

April 02, 2008|By Laura Smitherman | Laura Smitherman,Sun reporter

Tanning in artificial devices would be prohibited for minors in Maryland without parental consent under legislation that's headed toward final passage in the General Assembly.

Over objections about government intrusion and teenagers being prevented from getting a golden bronze for prom, the state Senate narrowly approved the bill on a 24-22 vote yesterday. The House of Delegates previously passed the bill, and the final vote by the Senate is expected today. Gov. Martin O'Malley has not reviewed the proposal, spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said.

During a debate that prompted moments of laughter and gravity, proponents described the legislation as a way to protect young people from skin cancer. Proponents recounted a former beauty queen who testified in Annapolis about her experiences using tanning beds and her bout with cancer. But detractors said the measure was an extreme remedy.

"Skin cancer is serious. It can kill you," said Sen. John C. Astle, an Anne Arundel County Democrat who supported the bill.

"So can going outside without sun block," said Sen. James Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat who opposed the bill.

Under the bill, a tanning facility must obtain written consent from a parent or legal guardian of someone under 18 on the premises before allowing the minor to tan. Violators could be subject to fines of up to $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second and up to $1,000 thereafter.

Several lawmakers said requiring that parents appear in person to give consent would be particularly onerous.

"So many people in college or in preparation for proms tan," said Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Republican representing Cecil and Harford counties. "We're going a little bit overboard on this."

Some lawmakers pointed out that other actions taken by minors in Maryland, including abortion, call for less involvement by parents. Maryland law dictates that a physician may not perform an abortion on an unmarried minor without first giving notice to a parent or guardian.

Other states have approved similar restrictions on tanning devices. California prohibits minors younger than 14 from using tanning devices. In Connecticut, minors younger than 16 have to obtain written parental consent. Florida requires a parent or guardian to accompany minors younger than age 14.

Some lawmakers said the Maryland proposal doesn't go far enough.

"This bill is child abuse," said Sen. Delores G. Kelley, a Baltimore County Democrat. "It would be the equivalent of a parent being able to take your 12-year-old to the liquor store and sign for them to have liquor."

Astle alerted his fellow senators to a spot on his nose that a dermatologist recently removed. He said his mother allowed him outdoors "without a note" when he was a child and now he's suffering from that overexposure to the sun.

"That's not from brown-nosing for bills," Astle said to laughter from his colleagues.

"I wouldn't be so sure about that," Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller interjected, adding his own punch line.

laura.smitherman@baltsun.com

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