Liverpool City Council is urging the Government to amend legislation to enable it to license sunbed salons.
It follows new research reveals that more than 80% of young women who use sunbeds in the city are unaware it can lead to an increased risk of skin cancer.
City campaigners say lives will be saved if the council is given powers to license sunbed salons to ensure they are practicing the recommended health and safety standards to limit the damage that sunbeds can cause. They are now calling on people to show their support by signing an e-petition to prompt a debate in parliament.
It comes as the city’s skin cancer clinics come under increased pressure due to the numbers of people requiring treatment.
Since 2000, the number of new cases of malignant melanoma in females in Liverpool has increased by 129%, more than double the increase seen nationally.
The call follows research by Liverpool City Council revealing that 83% of people questioned were unaware that using a sunbed increased the risk of skin cancer, worryingly, more than half of those quizzed had used sunbeds.
More than 900 people in Liverpool were questioned for the research, with the majority women and the average age being 21-30.
The findings also show that sunbed use is driven by the desire to look and feel good, suggesting that a local ‘sunbed culture’ and a desire to follow the ‘Liverpool look’ is resulting in young women putting themselves at increased risk of skin cancer.
Key findings include:
• 84% of sunbed users aged 30 or under (who are at increased risk of skin cancer due to their age) were not aware that going on a sunbed could cause skin cancer
• 82% of participants with type 1 or 2 skin (who are at increased risk of skin cancer) were not aware that going on a sunbed could cause skin cancer
• 82% of sunbed users who used sunbeds at least monthly (at greater risk of skin cancer due to their frequency of use) were also unaware of this connection
• This figure was higher amongst more frequent sunbed users; 88% of visitors who used sunbeds 3 or more times a week reported that they were unaware of this risk
• 34% of participants currently use sunbeds
• 46% of sunbed users went on them every week; 32% used them 1-2 times a week; 14% used them 3 or more times a week
Campaigners stress that the previous legislation introduced by the Government to protect under-18s appears to be ineffective, as recent research in the city shows this continues to be a problem with underage girls still being allowed to use sunbeds. Other issues also remain such as the use of unmanned coin-operated sunbeds; advertisements that imply a health benefit from using sunbeds and the different strengths of UV (ultra violet) lamps being used by sunbed operators.
Health professionals say the popularity of sunbed use in Liverpool and the prevalence of hundreds of unregulated salons presents a ticking health time bomb.
“Liverpool has significant levels of sunbed use compared to other parts of the country yet the City Council currently has very few powers to protect residents from the risks of using them,” said Councillor Roy Gladden, Assistant Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care and Health.
“Currently anyone who wishes to provide related cosmetic type practices such as tattooing and cosmetic piercing must be registered with their local council and adhere to health and safety standards. In light of the risks associated with sunbed use we believe there is a strong case for including sunbed operators in this list of compulsory registration schemes.”
A recent report by Cancer Research UK revealed that rates of malignant melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, are five times higher in the UK than they were in the 1970’s. Malignant melanoma is now the fifth most common cancer in the UK and more than 2,000 people die from the disease each year.
Emma Greenwood, Head of Policy at Cancer Research UK said “It’s alarming that so many people who spend time on sunbeds don’t know how potentially harmful they can be. Research has shown that using sunbeds for the first time before the age of 35 increases the risk of developing malignant melanoma – the most serious form of skin cancer – by almost 60 per cent. Any business providing sunbeds to the public should provide clear and accurate information to customers so people are aware of the serious health risks.”
Dr Sandra Davies, Interim Director of Public Health at Liverpool City Council, said: “Many women in Liverpool who are at increased risk of skin cancer – due to their age, skin type or frequency of using sunbeds – are using sunbeds without an understanding of their risk and this is extremely concerning.
“Using a sunbed once or more a month can increase the risk of skin cancer by 50%, with people under 35 years of age at particular risk. It is extremely important that anyone using sunbeds does so in the knowledge of the risks they are exposing themselves to and the industry takes measures to limit the damage that sunbeds can cause. People need to be able to make an informed decision about using sunbeds, just like they can when they read the health warning on a packet of cigarettes.”
She continued: “Skin cancer is the fastest growing cancer amongst 18-35 year olds in the UK. The seriousness of a skin cancer diagnosis is often misconceived by many young people. There is a real lack of awareness of the implications such a diagnosis can have in terms of the magnitude of the surgery needed to remove the tumour, the impact of the ongoing follow up needed due to the risk of recurrence and the psychological impact on body image due to resulting scarring.”
Liverpool City Council is asking for local authorities in England to have the option to introduce a local licensing scheme that would require sunbed businesses to follow a minimum number of health, safety and good practice guidelines.
A ten-point charter of standards has been drawn up:
• People at increased risk of skin cancer should not be allowed to use sunbeds (such as those with fair skin or family history of skins cancer)
• Prescribed health information/warnings should be displayed advising customers of the health risks of using sunbeds
• Ensure that current sunbed legislation prohibiting under 18s from using sunbed is enforced through a scheme such as Challenge 21
• Sunbeds must be used under the supervision of appropriately trained staff (unmanned/coin operated sunbeds prohibited)
• Protective goggles must be provided and worn by customers
• Customers should be advised verbally of the health risks of sunbed use
• Information implying a health benefit from sunbed use cannot be provided or displayed
• Limits should be placed upon the number and length of sunbed sessions
• Recorded evidence that equipment has been maintained and compliant with European Safety Standards should be kept
• Operators should ensure they fulfill Health and Safety Executive guidance in relation to the welfare o their employees