In a debate in Parliament, Green MP Sue Kedgley provided evidence to the Minister of Health that young people are using sunbeds under the mistaken belief that they are a safe way to get a tan. New Zealand has no legally enforceable standards on sunbeds or any regulations to restrict the use of sunbeds in New Zealand.
The New Zealand Cancer Society makes no bones about the problem of sunbed use and cancer when they state that they do not support cosmetic tanning using sunbeds or sunlamps under any circumstances. Research has shown that sunbed use:
- increases the risk of developing skin cancer
- causes premature ageing of the skin, including leathery, wrinkled and sagging skin
- is particularly damaging to the cornea of the eyes.
In 2002/2003, Jan Jopson and Anthony Reeder from the Dunedin School of Medicine carried out research looking at sun protection in secondary schools in New Zealand. One part of this research looked at secondary students’ attitudes to sunbeds and whether or not they used them. They talked to 635 14–15 year olds from a range of secondary schools across the country and found that 7% of females and 3% of males had used a sunbed in the last 12 months.
This is an important finding because previous research reported by the World Health Organization has shown that there is up to a 75% increase in the chances of developing melanoma if you have first used a sunbed in your teens or twenties. Research in Australia carried out by the Queensland Institute of Medical Research conducted a meta-analysis of 21 previous studies on sunbeds. From these 21 studies, it was found that people who first used a sunbed under the age of 35 increased their risk of melanoma by 98%.
Dr Richard McKenzie from NIWA is currently carrying out research comparing the radiation type and intensity from sunbeds in Auckland and Dunedin. He has found that the spectrum of light from a sunbed is very different from natural sunlight. The sunburning radiation from a sunbed may be similar to midday on a summer’s day but the wave length distribution can be quite different. Dr McKenzie used a UV sensor to record across the UV spectrum and compared this with the spectrum of normal midday sunlight. He found that, to give the same UVB suntanning effect, the sunbed emitted three times as much UVA. This is a UVA intensity three times more than you would ever get from any summer day anywhere in the world. His informed opinion is that we should not expose our bodies to anything so different from nature.
Also of great concern is New Zealand research carried out by the Consumers’ Institute, which reports a 5–8% increase in the use of sunbeds since 2000. About 40% of these users would use a sunlamp or visit a clinic once a fortnight. Because of their findings, the Consumers’ Institute has recommended that people under 15 should be banned from using sunbeds and those aged 15–18 should be required to have their parents’ permission.