Prom season debate

Sue Cain (right) of Dyer, Ind., helps daughter Morgan (second from left) find a prom dress in Chicago. They are assisted by Morgan's friend Macy Heinold (third from left).

CHICAGO – Morgan Cain scurried in and out of a dressing room at Peaches Boutique on Chicago’s Southwest Side amid a flurry of sequins and chiffon in search of the perfect dress for her senior prom.

Like legions of teenage girls this time of year, she is trying to ensure she’ll have the ideal look for the big event.

For some girls, achieving that impressive appearance also means several sessions in a tanning bed to give their skin a golden glow. But that’s not part of the plan for Cain, an 18-year-old student at Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind.

“I only get the spray tan,” said Cain, whose mother underwent surgery last year after being diagnosed with melanoma.

As this year’s high school dances draw near, a debate in Springfield has broken out over the safety of indoor tanning for youths under 18.

Bills have been introduced in the Illinois House and Senate that would bar minors from using tanning beds, even if their parents consent.

Dermatologists and other supporters of the legislation say that tanning beds are linked to skin cancers, including melanoma, the most deadly kind and one of the most common cancers in young people. Yet the beds remain popular with teens.

The effort gained traction last year when California became the first state to enact a law prohibiting those under 18 from indoor tanning. Several other states, including Illinois, Utah, Michigan, Arizona, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut are debating the possibility, according to the Indoor Tanning Association.

Providing ammunition for supporters of the restrictions is a Mayo Clinic study released this week that indicates that cases of melanoma in young women have spiked in recent years. Its authors are calling for a national ban on tanning beds for those younger than 18.

Industry officials and business owners argue that the state would be overstepping its bounds with a ban.

“If parents are OK with it, I would be OK with it,” said Shannon Hoffman, mother of three and owner of Tan Express in Naperville, Ill., “I think it is 100 percent a parental decision.”

The Indoor Tanning Association, a national trade group that represents indoor tanning facility owners, manufacturers and distributors, is doing everything in its power to steer the debate away from an all-out ban for minors.

“There’s no consensus about the relationship between ultraviolet light and skin cancer,” said John Overstreet, executive director of the Indoor Tanning Association.

In the Mayo Clinic’s study, researchers analyzed records for people between the ages of 18 and 39 who were diagnosed with melanoma in Olmsted County, Minn., between 1970 and 2009.

The incidence of melanoma among woman increased eight-fold over the 40-year period, the study determined.

The study did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship between increased cases of melanoma and tanning beds, but, said lead investigator and dermatologist Dr. Jerry Brewer, “We know for sure that ultraviolet exposure is linked to cancer, especially ultraviolet exposure from a tanning bed. It is probably the significant thing that is causing them to get melanoma in their 20s.”