The crusade against tanning is picking up pace nicely. Taking their cue from the temperance and anti-smoking movements, the campaigners are waltzing effortlessly down a well-trodden path.
They've already picked a number:
"We believe that sunbeds are causing upwards of 100 deaths per year in the UK."
And they've made the all important association with smoking:
Sunbeds are as dangerous as smoking, the World Health Organisation has said.
They've successfully played the think-of-the-children card in Scotland and have managed to get a sin tax put on sunbeds in the USA.
So far, so good, but it wouldn't be a true swivel-eyed prohibitionist crusade without talk of addiction. The word addiction is now so over-used that it has lost all meaning. If it has any definition in 2010, an addiction is something people keep doing, even though pressure groups tell them they shouldn't. Anything that gives us a moment's pleasure in our otherwise miserable lives fits this bill and is, therefore, fair game to be taxed, banned or regulated out of existence.
To the healthists, anyone who lives their life as if they're here for a good time, not a long time, must be literally out of their minds. Just as opponents of communism in Kruschev's USSR were treated as psychiatric cases, those who do not heed the messages of public health must be driven by forces they cannot control. The very fact that they fail to conform is proof that they lack free will. Why would any free individual fail to act in their own interest?
And so, in January, we had this:
Teenagers are putting their health at risk by becoming sunbed addicts, MPs heard today as a bid was launched to ban under-18s from tanning salons...
Labour former minister Caroline Flint said some research had warned "young people got addicted to it because as soon as the tan went, they wanted to top it up".
Mrs Morgan said there were "many examples of young people becoming addicted and feeling that they can't manage unless they go continuously ... and it is extremely dangerous".
Dick Puddlecote will be pleased to see his blog mascot—the last liberal in Parliament—taking a stand:
But Tory Philip Davies (Shipley) questioned why she had opted for the "nuclear option" of a ban instead a system requiring youngsters to show proof of parental consent before using the machines.
You will notice that the references to addiction above are not exactly what you would call clinical—Caroline Flint's comment is particularly facile—but, never fear, here comes the science:
Tanning salons could be addictive
Using tanning salons could be addictive in a similar way to alcohol or drugs, a study has suggested.
People who frequently use indoor tanning facilities may suffer addictive behaviour, according to a report in the journal Archives of Dermatology. They are likely to be more prone to anxiety symptoms and substance use, it said.
Disclaimer: I've only read the abstract of this study, but I suspect I would agree with the chairman of the Sunbed Association, Gary Lipman, who said:
"I am not a scientist but I have read enough scientific studies over the years to be able to see immediately that this one has little if any scientific merit."
The 'study' is actually just a survey of 229 sunbed users in the northeast of America, taken between September and December (when there's very little sun).
Further questioning showed that students who met the criteria for addiction to sunbeds were more likely to show signs of anxiety and use drugs such as alcohol and marijuana.
This is just a guess, but I'll throw it out there. Is it not possible that people who like to have a tan are also people who have a more active night-life, which would involve alcohol and drugs? Conversely, is it not also possible that the pale, the pasty-faced, the health nuts and the hypochondriacs are less likely to have an active night-life? Just asking, like.
"Despite ongoing efforts to educate the public about the health risks associated with natural and non-solar UV radiation, recreational tanning continues to increase among young adults," [the researchers] warned.
Time to take off the velvet glove then, eh? Note the reference to natural UV radiation. Never forget that there is no difference between the natural and non-solar UV rays. A campaign against sunbeds is a campaign against the sun itself. The rays are the same, the risk is the same. If they could regulate sun-bathing, they would. In fact, the anti-tanning brigade have already said that the sun is addictive. This comes from 2005:
...beachgoers reported if they were annoyed when people asked them to stop tanning, if they could not make themselves cut down on sunbathing, felt guilty about their habit, and wanted to tan as soon as they woke up...
"Anecdotal observations about patients who seemed 'addicted to the sun' have been discussed in dermatology for years," the authors note. They point out that the sun helps release endorphins in the skin, and people may become addicted to the feeling they get after tanning.
All we need now is a report about passive tanning. Watch this space.