Nanny State of the Week: FDA goes beyond the pale, prepares to ban teen tanning

tanning bed

In many states, teens are required to get parental permission before they can climb inside an indoor tanning bed.

Soon, even parental permission might not be enough. The federal government is poised to let nannyism override parental consent.

The Food and Drug Administration recently unveiled new rules for indoor tanning that would ban anyone under the age of 18 from using a tanning bed. The FDA says the new rules are part of a commitment to “protecting public health by informing consumers about the risks of indoor tanning.

CATCH SOME RAYS: Experts say “sun exposure is beneficial in moderation, but can be harmful in excess.” But when the government acts, its policies leave no room for moderation.

Someone needs to get the bureaucrats at the FDA a dictionary, because they’re using the word “informing” incorrectly.

“Informing consumers” means giving them information – like explaining how science shows a connection between excessive indoor tanning and higher risks of skin cancer – but then trusting informed consumers to consider that risk and make their own decisions.

It could also mean taking steps to ensure that some people, like teens, are fully aware of the risks by getting their parents involved.

Telling someone they are not allowed to do something is not “informing” them of anything, except perhaps the extent to which the federal government wants to stick its nose into their everyday lives.

“These proposed rules are meant to help adults make their decisions based on truthful information and to ensure manufacturers and tanning facilities take additional steps to improve the safety of these devices,” says the FDA.

But those same adults are apparently incapable of making that same decision when their children are involved. That’s the government’s job, apparently.

Tanning is big business in the United States, and young people make up a substantial portion of tanning salons’ customers. About 20 percent of adults in the U.S. tan at least once a year, but as much as 35 percent of American teens do, according to data from the National Institutes of Health.

Should parents be aware of the potential dangers of indoor tanning before letting their children tan? Absolutely.

But should government have the power to overrule parents on the issue of tanning (or plenty of other issues, come to think of it)? Nope.

Let’s not pretend there aren’t risks that come with tanning – whether done artificially or outside under the blazing sun the way God intended.  According to the American Academy of Dermatology, those who have been exposed to radiation from indoor tanning are 59 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never tanned indoors.

But there are benefits, too, beyond the vanity of not looking like a ghost for six months of the year. Tanning helps eliminate acne, and getting a base tan before hitting the beach can help protect against serious sunburn.

The federal government knows this. It funded research by the National Institutes of Health that found both risks and rewards to indoor tanning

“Sun exposure is beneficial in moderation, but can be harmful in excess. Sun exposure guidance should be tailored to the individual patient,” researchers for the NIH concluded.

Government policies leave no room for moderation, or for individuals to tailor their actions to their own individual needs.

When the government nannies decide to make something mandatory or illegal, there is no middle ground.

The FDA is accepting public comment on the new rules until the end of March.  Comments can be submitted here.

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This article originally appeared at

Eric Boehm is the national regulatory reporter for He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.


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