FDA slaps warning labels on tanning beds

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The Food and Drug Administration moved Thursday to strengthen regulations on tanning beds and other sunlamp products linked to skin cancer, for the first time requiring that they carry labels declaring them unfit for anyone under 18 years of age.

The FDA’s final order stops short of restricting the use of the products to adults, but officials said additional actions remain on the table.

Under the order, the agency is reclassifying sunlamp products and certain ultraviolet lamps from low-risk to moderate-risk devices. The elevation means manufacturers will be required to obtained pre-clearance before marketing their products.

The FDA is also requiring a “prominent, visible” warning label on tanning beds and booths stating that they should not be used by people under 18, said Nancy Stade, deputy director for policy at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

“This reflects FDA’s medical judgment that it shouldn’t be used [by] individuals under 18,” Stade said. “It’s a very strong statement.”

She cited research from the American Academy of Dermatology, which found people who have been exposed to UV radiation from indoor tanning experience a 59 percent increase in the risk of melanoma.

Public health advocates heralded the FDA’s action as long overdue.

“Like the tobacco industry, tanning salons market an addictive product disproportionately to teenagers and young women, playing on common insecurities,” said Tim Turnham, executive director of the Melanoma Research Foundation.

According to the FDA, roughly a third of girls have tried indoor tanning by the 12th grade.

The American Cancer Society also cheered the move, lamenting that tanning beds were previously classified in the same risk category as tongue depressors.

“Because the tanning industry continues to disregard the harmful effects of its products, it is imperative that we protect public health and educate youth about the carcinogenic hazards of indoor tanning,” a statement from the society’s Cancer Action Network reads.

The new rules will take effect in 90 days for new tanning beds and sunlamps, but manufacturers of products already on the market will have 450 days to submit compliance plans.

Stade said the FDA has authority to take stronger action to altogether prohibit the use of sunlamps by teens or children.

“We’re certainly willing to consider other options we could take in the interest of the public health,” she said. 

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