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New leadership in House may dampen push for indoor tanning regulations


Has the sun set on the 10 percent tanning bed tax that was included in the new healthcare law, now that the Republicans are ready to flex their muscles on Capitol Hill? Does legislation introduced earlier this year that would give feds the power to regulate indoor tanning have a chance in this new Congress?

Key Points

Has the sun set on the 10 percent tanning bed tax that was included in the new healthcare law, now that the Republicans are ready to flex their muscles on Capitol Hill?

Early signs are that the answer to the first question could well be "Yes," while the answer to the second is probably "No." Although there are no guarantees in politics, the signs certainly point in that direction.

Long before the Nov. 2 midterm elections, then-House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), the perpetually tannest member of Congress, decried the tanning bed tax contained in the Affordable Care Act as "causing all kinds of problems for business owners who provide tanning services."

And some Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee declared that "No amount of sunscreen or aloe will relieve the pain" of the tax.

While Rep. Boehner steadfastly denies ever using tanning beds, he can be expected to strongly support - if not actually lead - efforts that will surely come from the newly empowered GOP to repeal that tax, seen as many (including the AADA) as a deterrent to the use of tanning beds, and predicted to raise $2.7 billion to help fund the new healthcare program.

Tanning industry

The AADA points out that UV radiation is the single largest environmental factor in the development of skin cancer, and both the Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization have said that UV radiation from tanning beds is "carcinogenic to humans." The AADA says the use of tanning beds before age 35 can increase one's risk of getting melanoma by some 75 percent.

The Rep. Boehner-led Republicans have boasted throughout the election campaign that they would seek to repeal the healthcare law, and, failing that, would repeal specific provisions they find most distasteful. Playing into that pledge, the tanning industry sought to mobilize salon operators and their customers to support candidates who would support that effort in Congress.

An industry blog on http://tantoday.com/ declared the following: "Are you mad about the Sun Tan Tax? Then do something about it ... send a message to Washington - 'You are fired if you voted for this absurd tax!'"

The blog also pointed out that Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), "A friend of the tanning industry," would be chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that handles funding for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with Republicans in charge in the House. The blog pointed out that the FDA is currently determining the reclassification of tanning beds and their future use.

That brings us to the Tanning Bed Cancer Control Act sponsored last January by Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Charlie Dent (R-Pa.).

"Tanning beds are the cigarettes of our time; cancer-causing and poorly regulated," Maloney said in introducing the measure, which would address tanning bed safety by expanding the FDA's regulation over tanning beds and limit the strength of the UV rays emitted by bed sunlamps and the amount of time a consumer may be exposed.

The bill would ask the FDA to re-examine the classification of tanning beds from a Class I medical device (which poses minimal potential harm to users) to make sure it reflects current technology and associated risks. A higher classification would make all newly developed devices subject to pre-market surveillance and evaluation.

Since that measure was not passed, it will have to be reintroduced next year and will face an even more difficult hurdle to win approval, given the results of the Nov. 2 election.

Getting to the point

It doesn't matter that melanoma is deadly and the evidence shows that indoor tanners are especially susceptible to the disease. It doesn't matter that it is preventable. It doesn't matter that if the tax is imposed, at least some Americans may be discouraged from frequenting tanning salons. And it doesn't matter that the tax will raise badly needed money to help pay for healthcare reform. Nor does it matter that if UV exposure from indoor tanning is reduced, fewer people will contract and die from melanoma.

None of that matters in today's political environment. What seems to matter is that Rep. Boehner and his pals will be able to boast that they repealed one of President Obama's taxes. That's it.

Bob Gatty, former congressional aide, covers Washington for businesses specializing in healthcare and related issues. Contact him at bob@gattyedits.com

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