TRENTON — New Jersey is looking at tightening restrictions on the use of tanning beds by young people under a bill that would bar anyone under 18 from using them.
The Assembly's Women and Children Committee passed the measure Monday by a 5-0 vote, though two members abstained. It now heads to the full Assembly for consideration, but it's not known when a vote will be held.
The bill would expand a 2006 state law that bans tanning-bed use by anyone under 14 and requires written parental consent for those 14 to 17. The bill would allow for spray or sunless tanning for children 14 to 17 with parental consent.
The issue has seen renewed interest after a Nutley woman was accused this month of taking her 5-year-old daughter into a tanning booth. That allegedly resulted in burns to the child's skin. The mother, Patricia Krentcil, has denied she took the child into the booth and pleaded not guilty to child endangerment.
Supporters of the measure presented lawmakers with a number of studies, including one showing that indoor tanning use by those age 35 and younger significantly increases the risk of melanoma. They also cited an estimate that one in three American 17-year-olds uses indoor tanning beds.
Thirty-three states regulate the use of tanning facilities by minors, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. An additional 23 states have seen legislation prohibiting tanning introduced since 2011. California and Vermont are the only states that have bans against tanning for children under 18.
Laura Lawson of Cherry Hill told lawmakers she started tanning at 16 and at 19 was diagnosed with skin cancer. She had a fist-size piece of her abdomen removed.
"I figured a few years of tanning wouldn't affect my life," said Lawson, now in her 20s. "How wrong I was."
Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi told the committee she used a tanning bed as a teenager and almost died from a rare form of melanoma at age 25. Over 15 years later, Schepisi said, she still needs regular screenings and worries about being there for her children.
"This is not just getting a mole cut off," she said.
Dermatologist Elizabeth Quigley said that she regularly treats teenagers and warns them of the dangers of indoor tanning, but that they seldom listen.
Tanning salon owners and industry spokesmen said the ban has more to do with politics than science.
International Smart Tan Network executive director Joseph Levy said studies showing links between indoor tanning and skin cancer are inconclusive.
"We're here in this sort of circus environment because of the tanned mom in New Jersey," Levy said.
The measure would take effect six months after enactment.