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Ó Caoláin welcomes restrictions on sunbeds

12 February, 2014 - by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD


Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD has welcomed the Bill banning the use of sunbeds by people under 18 and strictly regulating the sector for the first time. He said that an outright ban should be considered. Speaking in the Dáil on the Public Health (Sunbeds) Bill, Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

“Sunbeds cause cancer. It is as simple as that.

“Every effort needs to be made to minimise and, eventually, through better public awareness and informed decision making, to eliminate the use of sunbeds for tanning.

“As legislators we have a duty to protect public health. In doing so we have to strike a balance between what might be seen as coercion and the use of legislation to encourage modification of social behaviour. We have done this quite successfully in relation to smoking, although a lot remains to be done in that regard.

“The attraction of tanning with sunbeds is purely a product of social and cultural attitudes. It is about the body image held by many in our society.

“There is a widespread lack of awareness of the damage that sunbeds are doing. Legislation, to be effective, must go hand in hand with public education and awareness.

“Up to nine out of ten cases of skin cancer are caused by ultraviolet radiation from the sun or from sunbeds. Over 9,000 people were diagnosed with skin cancer in this State in 2010, nearly 900 with melanoma. There were over 150 deaths from skin cancer in 2011.

“It is of great concern that the incidence of melanoma is rising and the current rate is over 130% on that of 1994.

“In Australia the states of Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania have banned sunbeds altogether. The case for an outright ban needs to be taken seriously to protect everyone.”

FULL DÁIL SPEECH FOLLOWS:

Public Health (Sunbeds) Bill 2013 – 2nd Stage 11.2.14

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD, Sinn Féin Health & Children spokesperson

I personally and on behalf of Sinn Féin very much welcome this Bill as a vital protection of public health.

Sunbeds cause cancer. It is as simple as that.

Every effort needs to be made to minimise and, eventually, through better public awareness and informed decision making, to eliminate the use of sunbeds for tanning.

As legislators we have a duty to protect public health. In doing so we have to strike a balance between what might be seen as coercion and the use of legislation to encourage modification of social behaviour.

We have done this quite successfully in relation to smoking, although a lot remains to be done in that regard.

The ban on smoking in public premises and in workplaces has been a clear success in public health terms. But it would not have been possible without the years of widespread education of the public about the reality of lung cancer and the many other illnesses caused by smoking. This was a long battle fought against the massive resources of the tobacco industry. And that battle is not yet over.

Smoking has both a social and a physical aspect. For some, there is a perceived social or peer pressure to smoke, although that has greatly diminished. Far more important is the physical addiction to tobacco that is so difficult for people to overcome.

In contrast, the attraction of tanning with sunbeds is purely a product of social and cultural attitudes. It is about the body image held by many in our society. There is almost a compulsion for these sections of our population to have a permanent tan because of the widespread perception that a tan is necessary in order to appear attractive and even healthy.

And, in contrast again to smoking, there is a widespread lack of awareness of the damage that sunbeds are doing.

A very interesting survey was carried out last year among 243 transition-year students at five Co. Sligo post-primary schools on their attitudes to skin cancer, sunbed use and tanning. The results were quite alarming.

While there was a low incidence of actual use of sunbeds among these young people, there was a lack of awareness of the dangers. 77 per cent of the teenagers thought tanned skin looks healthier. And 73 per cent believed it looks attractive.

Of most concern is the belief among 73% of those surveyed that a sunbed tan provides a so-called safe base for a holiday tan, and the persistence of the myth among some that it is a cure for acne.

The clinical nurse specialist in dermatology who carried out the Sligo survey said that while the long-awaited ban on sunbeds for under 18s - provided for in the Bill before us today - will be welcome, a nationwide sun awareness campaign is essential. I would certainly echo that call.

Legislation, to be effective, must go hand in hand with public education and awareness.

In this regard I commend the work of the Irish Cancer Society which has done a great deal of work to expose the reality of what sunbeds mean for public health in Ireland. The statistics are grim:


•Up to nine out of ten cases of skin cancer are caused by ultraviolet radiation from the sun or from sunbeds.


•In 2009 the International Agency for Research on Cancer placed sunbeds in the highest category of cancer risk – as carcinogenic as tobacco and plutonium.


•The most common cancer in this country is skin cancer.


•Over 9,000 people were diagnosed with skin cancer in this State in 2010, nearly 900 with melanoma. There were over 150 deaths from skin cancer in 2011.

It is of great concern that the incidence of melanoma is rising and the current rate is over 130% on that of 1994.

The risk of developing cancer as a result of sunbed use is greater among the young. Yet the Irish Cancer Society researchers found that in 2010 some 28,000 young people under the age of 25 use sunbeds in this State – many of them on a weekly basis.

Coming back to the social attitudes which lead to sunbed use we see that 88% of those who use them are women and 20% are between the ages of 15 and 24.

Very clearly, parents as well as children need to be educated about the dangers. No responsible parents who are properly informed of the high risk of cancer to which they are exposing their children would allow them to use sunbeds.

It is appropriate therefore that a special focus of this Bill is the protection of children.

I welcome the outright ban on the use of sunbeds by people under 18 years of age. Welcome also is the new regulatory regime for a sector that has been unregulated up to this. I look forward to seeing these regulations put in place and implemented comprehensively and I urge the Minister to ensure that the necessary resources are in place to do so.

I am not certain of the outworking of Section 14 (1) of the Bill which enables the Minister to prescribe training leading to a qualification in the “safe use of sunbeds” which is recognised within the National Framework of Qualifications and/or equivalent qualification.

Apart from the exempted area of phototherapy, surely the whole thrust of this Bill is that there is no “safe use” of sunbeds? I accept that so long as sunbeds are permitted for tanning purposes the providers must be properly qualified but I would not like to see the impression given that the State is encouraging young people to train and receive qualification for something that, in time, we would like to see eliminated altogether. Perhaps this Section can be revisited in Committee Stage.

That raises the question as to whether a simple outright ban on sunbeds was considered. The Minister says ‘no’ to such a step in his opening remarks. But was it even considered in the preparation of this legislation and will the Minister give an answer to the House in his responding contribution at the close of Second Stage? In Australia the states of Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania have banned sunbeds altogether.

In the latest state to impose the ban, Victoria, almost 400 tanning beds operating in 118 solariums across the state will be shut down when the ban comes into effect in 2015. Again, I ask the Minister to expand on his reasons for not taking a similar course.

Why follow Australia in relation to tobacco packaging but not on the use of tanning beds, given that both have an indisputable link to cancers in human beings?

The Irish Cancer Society has called for the Bill to include a prohibition on people with Type 1 and Type 2 skin – the fairest skin types – from using sunbeds. I share that concern but I can see that a selective ban would be problematic. Given that all skin types are risk, why ban only the higher risk types? Again, the case for an outright ban needs to be taken seriously to protect everyone.

In conclusion, I welcome this Bill and urge that it be accompanied by an effective public awareness campaign.

ENDS

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