Tanning bed dangers debated

(NBC) – An FDA panel heard testimony Thursday from patients and doctors who say indoor tanning is dangerous, but the tanning industry asks: Where's the evidence?

Thirty million Americans use indoor tanning beds every year. A million are diagnosed with skin cancer.

Brittany Cicala was diagnosed with stage 2 melanoma at age 20. She thinks it came from almost daily indoor tanning.

"I was addicted - tanning beds were my drug of choice," she said.

Patients and doctors are trying to get the FDA to either ban, or severely restrict, indoor tanning beds.

Right now the agency classifies them as a class one medical device, no more dangerous than elastic bandages. However, the World Health Organization says there's "significant and compelling" evidence that they cause skin cancer.

"Our research says that the chance is over 50 percent that you'll get burned from these things. The problem is that you won't see the skin cancer for literally decades afterwards," says Dr. Len Lichtenfeld of the American Cancer Society.

New research presented to FDA advisers suggests tanning, even without burns, damages DNA and may be addictive.

"The damage to the cells release chemicals in your system that make you addicted to getting more tanning. It's very similar to smoking," said William James of the American Academy of Dermatology Association.

The tanning industry argues half of all injuries happen when the beds are misused.

"For anyone to suggest there were more injures because hey - there have to be more injures. Well there was no data to support that," counters Dan Humiston of the Indoor Tanning Association.

Thirty-two states restrict the use of tanning beds. The industry argues if patients were being burned or given cancer they'd lose business, and they're making $5 billion a year.

A new 10 percent tax could cut into those profits. That tax is part of the new health reform law.

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