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Tanning industry tries anew to salvage reputation

| Sunday, March 3, 2013, 5:24 p.m.

WASHINGTON — A new association of tanning salon owners is trying to salvage the reputation of sun beds despite a broad consensus among doctors and researchers that the devices can cause cancer.

The American Suntanning Association, which represents about 14,000 salon owners nationwide, formed in December to correct “misinformation about sunlight and sun beds” and “to promote the many benefits of moderate indoor tanning,” according to the group's website. The association joined other industry groups to lobby against legislation introduced this year in 17 states that would ban children younger than 18 from tanning salons. So far, only California and Vermont have passed such bans.

As the revamped association gears up to defend the $5 billion indoor tanning industry, however, a state senator from California, Democrat Ted Lieu, has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the group for allegedly deceiving consumers about the skin cancer risks of sun beds.

“They are in complete denial that their tanning beds are killing people,” Lieu said.

In two letters to the FTC, Lieu argued that the American Suntanning Association should be bound by a 2010 FTC order that prohibited a similar group called the Indoor Tanning Association from making “false health and safety claims about indoor tanning,” such as denying the skin cancer risks of tanning or declaring that indoor tanning is safer than tanning outdoors.

In a settlement with the federal agency, the Indoor Tanning Association agreed to stop misrepresenting tests or studies and to halt deceptive advertisements.

Lieu says the newly established American Suntanning Association is composed of many of the same members as the Indoor Tanning Association and shouldn't be allowed to make statements that the FTC has ruled false or misleading.

Lieu said last week that he now had “concrete evidence” that the new group was a successor organization to the Indoor Tanning Association, and therefore in direct violation of the federal settlement.

He sent the FTC a copy of an article in an industry magazine in which American Suntanning Association board member Diane Lucas thanks the Indoor Tanning Association “for making such a smooth transition by getting us all the state lobbying history and contact information for the state lobbying battles.”

“It's just very clear to me that it's simply the same industry trade group with a different name,” Lieu said. FTC spokeswoman Betsy Lordan said the agency couldn't comment on whether an investigation is under way.

The Indoor Tanning Association, which still appears to be an active organization in Washington, didn't respond to requests for comment. On its website, the group says it represents tanning manufacturers, distributors and members of support industries, as well as facility owners.

The new American Suntanning Association, which represents only salon owners, disputes Lieu's allegations.

“It's untrue,” said Tracie Cunningham, the executive director of the association, which is based in Michigan. “The senator's understanding of the science is a perfect example of why both sides of the story need to be heard. ”

The World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies ultraviolet radiation from sun beds as carcinogenic to humans, alongside tobacco and asbestos.

A 2007 study by the agency determined that people who start tanning regularly before age 30 have a 75 percent higher risk of developing melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer.

Other studies have reached similar conclusions.

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