Tourists on the front at Brighton were puzzled by the teams of young men and women, dressed in red T- shirts, black shorts and spotted bandanas, who offered sunbathers free squirts of watermelon sunscreen.
The campaign, launched by the Body Shop with Brighton Borough Council and the East Sussex Health Authority, is inspired by Australia's 'Slip, Slop, Slap' spray patrols and beach 'mole-check' centres.
Avalee Chapman, 26, who was running a 'spray station' on the beach opposite the Grand Hotel, said: 'You tell them to close their mouths, make sure they're upwind of you, and let them have it.'
Spray patrols are planned in Torquay, Blackpool and Great Yarmouth this summer. They could become as familiar a feature of the British seaside as ice-cream sellers and deck-chair attendants.
But many sunbathers in Brighton yesterday thought the suncare message was being taken too far. Michelle Scane, 25, said: 'It's an invasion of privacy. I come here to get away from people, not to be sprayed with that stuff.' Tony Raftery, 37, from Hove, was more blunt: 'If anyone sprays me with anything, I'll smack 'em in the mouth.'
But Bob Burke, 29, was more encouraging. He said: 'I've had hideous sunburn abroad, with my feet swollen up like footballs. It's got to be a good idea.'
Men and teenagers are particularly reluctant to apply sunscreens or sunblocks, researchers say.
Dr Charles Darley, a local consultant dermatologist, said the Brighton initiative was one of many being developed by health authorities. 'It's very piecemeal. What we really need is a national campaign.'
He said there were 40 cases of melanoma, a potentially fatal skin cancer, in Brighton last year and more than 300 cases of less serious skin cancers. Nationally, melanoma cases have doubled over the past decade, with 1,250 deaths last year.
Dr Meg Price, another dermatologist in attendance on the beach yesterday, said: 'At the moment, there's enormous publicity about pollution on the beaches, but you're just as likely to die from melanoma as salmonella.'
A young London couple were not worried about either. 'Sunburn?' grunted the man, looking at the clouds. 'In this country, they should be handing out umbrellas.'
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