Sunbeds banned in alert over skin cancers risk

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Two local councils have banned sunbeds from leisure centres on health grounds, it emerged yesterday as a leading skin specialist urged an outright ban on the beds in all publicly-funded clubs and centres.

Dr Jonathan Norris, a consultant dermatologist at Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary in Scotland, is urging colleagues nationally to put pressure on their local councils to remove sunbeds.

Their use for cosmetic tanning must be re-examined as evidence grows that ultraviolet A radiation - the type of rays provided by sunbeds - is a promoter of skin cancers including the life-threatening melanoma. He said:"The medical profession should be more critical of sunbed salons that operate purely for financial gain."

Skin cancer is increasing by about 10 per cent a year and there are about 40,000 new cases diagnosed annually. Melanoma is increasing by about 5 per cent, with about 4,000 new cases a year. Despite strong Government public health messages designed to stop people sunbathing naturally or using artificial sources, sunbeds remain popular and there has been a recent explosion in high-street walk-in tanning shops.

A survey by the Office for National Statistics, found that one in 10 women and 7 per cent of men had used sunbeds in the past year. Almost one in four of these women exceeded the maximum limit of 20 sessions a year, that is recommended by the British Photodermatology Group. One in 10 users said that they had spent more than 30 minutes at a time on beds.

In a letter to the British Medical Journal, Dr Norris writes: "The promotion of machines whose only function is to produce radiation damage to the skin, which may ultimately promote skin cancer, should play no part in the operational policy of modern local councils professing to have the best interest of their constituents at heart.

Councils may argue that they are catering for a demand for sunbeds by the public, but this demand is led by ignorance and should be rejected."

In February, Caradon District Council in Liskeard, Cornwall, removed sunbeds from one of its leisure centres, and has decided not to provide them in two new centres which it has opened since. In June, Dumfries and Galloway Council removed sunbeds from five locations in south-west Scotland, following consideration of reports about the dangers of cosmetic tanning, including one that was submitted by Dr Norris.

A spokesman for Dumfries and Galloway said that it had decided to but "public health before financial income". No formal complaints from the public had been received, she added, although people had asked attendants at the centre why the decision had been taken to remove the beds.

Dr Norris said that now that a precedent had been set, all local authorities should seriously consider closing down their sunbed facilities. "Doctors, and dermatologists in particular, should pressure them to do so," he writes.

Speaking yesterday, Dr Norris said he thought councils were irresponsibly misleading people into associating sunbeds with health and fitness. He said: "Sunbeds at council-run leisure centres are very common. When you get a leisure facility operated by a council, designed for health and fitness, very often they'll throw in a sunbed, and the reason they do so is for profit.

"I think councils should operate higher moral and ethical standards. It's enough of an uphill struggle educating people about skin cancer without local authorities promoting what I'm fighting against."

A spokesman for the Association of County Councils said yesterday that local authorities always considered public safety and kept a close eye on the medical evidence related to sunbeds, and that users were advised accordingly.

No one from the The Sunbed Association, which represents some high-street tanning salons was available to comment on Dr Norris's claims yesterday.

The manager of The Gentry, a beauty salon in east London, which provides two sunbeds for its customers, said her establishment did not tell people about specific health risks linked to their use.

"Most of them know the dangers, and they've read about it like we all have. I thin it is up to them if they want to take the risk, it's their decision, isn't it?" she said.