COLUMBIA — The South Carolina House voted Wednesday to ban kids from using tanning beds at salons, rejecting arguments that it's not government's role to protect people from their own stupidity.
Rep. Garry Smith, R-Simpsonville, said legislators may as well pass laws limiting how long children can play outside, since the sun is the chief cause of skin cancer.
"If we’re going to send Big Brother after us, why don’t we say, 'If you’re under 18, you can only spent 15 minutes outside?' " Smith said. "We can’t write enough bills to keep people from doing stupid things — to stay out in the sun too long or the tanning bed — but at some point we must say, 'Enough is enough.' "
The 72-39 vote came after Rep. Kirkman Finlay, whose father died of melanoma skin cancer in 1993, called his fellow Republicans' reasoning absurd.
The bill does not apply to tanning beds bought for personal use. Another routine vote Thursday sent it to the Senate.
"We occasionally wrap ourselves around axles, but the idea we're conflating the use of tanning beds by minor children with life and liberty is one bridge too far. Enough," Finlay, R-Columbia, said in wrapping up a lengthy debate.
The World Health Organization puts tanning beds in its highest risk category for causing cancer, alongside tobacco and asbestos.
Getting into a tanning bed even once at any age increases the risk of developing melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, by 20 percent, and the risk increases for those who start tanning young, according to a 2017 report.
"We do not let our children smoke cigarettes because it's bad for you. Why should we let them tan?" Finlay asked.
He also asked his colleagues if they'd ever seen someone dying of melanoma.
"If you’ve ever watched it, you do not want anything that allows children to exacerbate their chance of getting this," he said, referring to his father, Kirkman Finlay Jr., Columbia's mayor from 1978 to 1986. "Why we would allow children under 18 to do this is beyond me. It’s an agonizing death. What you lose when it happens to you is beyond anything you can imagine or ever want to see."
Rep. Russell Fry, R-Surfside Beach, tried unsuccessfully to make it a parental choice issue. His amendment would have allowed children to tan, if they brought a consent form signed by a parent to each tanning session.
Current regulations require a parent to sign a consent form at the tanning facility before a child's first use, but no additional consent is required.
"I’m not going to stand up here and say tanning beds are beneficial," Fry said. "But that decision rests better with parents than the business or the state."
At least parents would know "how often their child is using a tanning bed," he said, though Rep. Robert Ridgeway, D-Manning, questioned how anyone would know whether the signature belonged to a parent.
Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell, D-Lancaster, said parents sometimes make bad decisions.
"There are moms who love to get very, very brown," she said, adding Fry's proposal would allow that mom to bring her 9-year-old with her to tan, too.
Fry said he was also fighting for small business owners who have "put a lot of sweat equity" into their tanning bed operations.
Statewide, there are 393 tanning facilities that operate a total of 2,644 beds and stand-up booths, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, which regulates the businesses.
Lexington County has the highest number of tanning facilities, with 34, followed by Spartanburg County with 29. Greenville and Horry counties are next, with 28 each, according to the agency.
Under the bill, tanning salon operators who let children under 18 tan could be fined $500 for each violation.