FTC throttles ITA campaign, but dermatologists say battle continues

March 1, 2010

Dermatologists welcome the FTC's recent crackdown on what the agency labels deceptive advertising by the Indoor Tanning Association (ITA). The ITA, meanwhile, says a recent settlement with the federal regulatory agency will allow the industry to continue to have a "meaningful voice" in the debate over the health benefits and risks of tanning.

Key Points

The ITA, meanwhile, says a recent settlement with the federal regulatory agency will allow the industry to continue to have a "meaningful voice" in the debate over the health benefits and risks of tanning.

Claims must be proven

The agreement moreover mandates that future ITA ads containing claims about indoor tanning's safety or health benefits must prominently disclose risks associated with UV radiation, including skin cancer and serious eye injury.

"We are delighted that the FTC has drawn attention to the false and misleading health claims being perpetuated by the indoor tanning industry," says David M. Pariser, M.D., president of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

"Dermatologists remain dedicated to educating the public about the dangers of UVB exposure, whether indoor or outdoor," he says. "The academy will continue its communications and advocacy efforts to educate the public about the dangers of indoor tanning."

The FTC's action is "long overdue," says Henry Lim, M.D., chairman of dermatology, Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit. "We all have known that many of the claims the ITA has made have been inaccurate. The World Health Organization has classified UV light as a carcinogen."

The ITA campaign also overplayed the role of vitamin D, he says. While physicians know that vitamin D is beneficial, Dr. Lim says, it's less clear whether the relationship between vitamin D and the many diseases it appears to combat is purely one of cause and effect.

Derms: Supplements safer

James M. Spencer, M.D., clinical professor of dermatology, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, adds that people who want to increase their vitamin D levels can do so safely through diet and supplementation.

Dr. Spencer says that although he hopes the FTC's action against the ITA campaign represents a turning of public and regulatory tide against tanning, "This is just the beginning. The ITA has been slapped down by the FTC here, but they didn't close shop. They lost a battle, but the war is not over."

Indeed, says John Overstreet, ITA executive director, "The settlement with the FTC allows the ITA to continue to have a meaningful voice in the ongoing public debate over the health benefits - including vitamin D production in the body - of appropriate exposure to ultraviolet light, as well as the risks of overexposure." The settlement also includes no fines or admission of illegal activity, he notes.

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