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The worlds of science and politics were meant to be united in the fourth homework assignment for the course. After researching the topic, I had to write a one-page letter to my Congresswoman urging her to vote for, or against, a ban on sun tanning beds for under-18s. The science was unmistakably on the side of support for the bill, so I went with that. It was a bit of a slog to limit it one page (I eventually had to “cheat” by reducing the font from my usual 12 to 11 points), but, science aside, as it always would be in such a case, I would’ve preferred to take the opposing view - and, were this not a science course, I certainly would have. As I was writing this rather worthy piece (see below), I kept thinking of how the tanning bed industry would rubbish the science and, in some sense or other, accuse the bill’s proponents of being anti-American (or anti-freedom, the same thing for all-too-many Americans), or letting the terrorists win. And that, to a great extent, okay, maybe not the bit about letting the terrorists win, is what would happen and the average representative would probably find their arguments more compelling that the ones I offered not, of course, because the industry would offer arguments supported by that most telling of rhetorical devices, money.
The Honorable Nydia Velazquez
United States Congress
2241 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-2104
Dear Congresswoman Velazquez,
My name is Dermot O’Brien, I live in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and I am a keen supporter of the fine work you do in the House, most especially through the “Children’s Caucus.” I am aware of the pending legislation H.R. 6637 Tanning Bed Reduction Bill and I urge you to vote yes on this bill because it will protect my two pre-teen sons from the harmful effects of tanning beds until they are at least 18 years of age.
It is clear to me, having researched the issue, that tanning beds are dangerous. As far back as 1997 in the British Journal of Dermatology, Woolloons et al found that tanning beds, “produce the types of DNA damage associated with photocarcinogenesis.” Beds thus damage skin at the most profound level imaginable from 3 to 8 times more than sunlight. Europe is, on this issue, well ahead of America with solid research from Sweden backing the claims of the British dermatologists, and Prof. Tom Keane, Ireland’s Director of Cancer Control calling for an outright ban on tanning beds.
I know that kids feel pressure to look tanned, but recent reports on the “look” demanded in the fashion industry suggest that designers are beginning to want models whose skin glows in a healthy manner rather than looking like, as one insider put it, “hazelnut chocolate ice cream.” But even I wanted to look like one of Ben & Jerry’s more exotic flavors, I can always use self-tanning cream, indeed I sometimes use it myself, which is infinitely safer than tanning beds (I found no evidence of any possible ill-effects from such creams) beds, and quicker and cheaper too!
Critics of this bill, as in so many other bills which attempt to protect our young people from harmful products, will, no doubt, adopt their usual twin tactics. First, they will try to say that the scientific evidence is not yet conclusive and that further study is needed. Second, they will couch their arguments in terms of “freedom.” They will claim that it is the right of every American to have any skin tone he or she wishes and say that this bill is an affront to “the American Way.” To the first claim, I offer the evidence above and the words of noted dermatologist, Dr. James Spencer of Mt. Sinai School of Medicine who says of indoor tanning, “we know it will cause skin cancer. Not maybe. Not might. It’s going to cause cancer. No one under 18 should be allowed to use those things.” In response to the second argument, I wish to point out that this bill will still permit adults to be as tanned as George Hamilton if they so wish, and that the real freedom to be protected is the freedom of parents to know that their wishes for their children are not undermined by society.
I cannot supervise my sons for 24 hours of the day, but if this bill passes, at least I can know that they are being protected from this highly carcinogenic practice.
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