If insanity is defined as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” then the indoor tanning industry has gone insane!
Health claims about UV tanning… many in this industry have made them at one time or another to promote their businesses. This practice continues to be the worst thing that we, as supposed indoor tanning professionals, could do for our industry, yet many still believe this is the proverbial “silver bullet” that will save their businesses. The only way to get them to stop making health claims is by showing them how much damage this practice has already done to the industry, hence the timeline upon which this story is built. This collection of factual evidence highlights how industry members making health claims about tanning has had a negative effect upon the industry. This evidence clearly shows that this industry harms itself each time it makes health claims to the public, and when viewed together as a whole, we would be surprised if anyone could still claim that this practice is the future of the industry. The facts quite simply speak for themselves.
The single most important reason why no one in this industry should make health claims about tanning is that it’s illegal to do so. Title 21, part 1040 of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Code of Federal Regulations clearly states that indoor tanning industry professionals cannot make claims about health benefits to the public when discussing or promoting our services and products. This means no boasting about the connection between UV exposure and vitamin D3 production in the body, no more statements that tanning prevents, reduces or cures illnesses and no more saying that indoor tanning is “safe” or “safer than tanning outdoors.” Any marketing campaign based on this premise is illegal … it always has been, and will continue to be.
The indoor tanning industry’s trip down Health Claims Road began in 2001 when Dr. Michael Holick presented research that suggested moderate sun exposure can be good for vitamin D production (see timeline). While his message was rooted in the concept of moderation, this industry was anything but moderate in spreading that information – training programs, marketing campaigns and trade events sprung up around it as many believed it was the “silver bullet” that would kill the negative image salons were fighting. This culminated in 2007 when, responding to pressures to create a “national advertising campaign” from salon professionals, the Indoor Tanning Association headed up an aggressive PR campaign. Using Holick’s findings as its basis, the campaign was aimed at this industry’s detractors and led to an FTC investigation and consent decree signed by the ITA stating that its members will no longer use health claims as a means to promote indoor tanning (see timeline).
Today, the health claims battle is mainly being fought on one front – the indoor tanning salon. Many operators are “educating” their clients about the relationship between moderate tanning and vitamin D production in the body as well as making a variety of associated health claims, and this continues to undermine the level of professionalism to which this industry needs to aspire. Why do they do this? According to one salon owner, “I know it’s illegal, but when I have client after client canceling their memberships because they’re afraid of getting skin cancer, (health claims) are the only thing I have to fight it.” So it would appear that more than 10 years of hyping health benefits by one group of tanning business operators has created the mindset that this approach is the industry’s only hope. Maybe we really are in trouble!
While some salon owners are getting away with making health claims, others haven’t been so lucky. One Texas-based salon chain owner recently settled a final judgment and agreed permanent injunction with that state’s attorney general’s office to the tune of $141,520.44 (see timeline). The salon owner, his company and its affiliates were also ordered to cease marketing, promoting and making claims about health benefits of indoor tanning and/or red-light therapy sessions, and they’re also no longer allowed to include any statement, claim research or link to research on other websites or social network that implies that tanning units/devices are a method of increasing vitamin D levels or reducing disease risk. Take a look at your profit statement from 2013 and ask yourself if you could afford to lose a similar legal battle.
With this timeline, the message ist Magazine is attempting to convey is straightforward – people doing business in this industry must stop making health claims about tanning. The only way to gain credibility and elevate our professionalism in the eyes of mainstream USA is by communicating a consistent and unified message that promotes responsible, moderate tanning without overexposure at salons with staff who care about their clients and community. IST’s Sun Is Life® Trade School discourages salon professionals from making health claims and is designed to increase professionalism and communicate with the public in a confident and positive manner. Now more than ever, you and your staff need to experience the Sun is Life® difference and see the positive benefits it will provide your business and the industry as a whole.
“Health Claims Road” has been littered with problems since this industry first tried practicing medicine in 2001. This is why we need to take the other road, the one that leads us to the image of professionalism that results from treating what we do as a trade. In every salon in every state, we must educate our staff through state- and industry-approved training curriculum. If salon owners and their staff don’t have this training, then they shouldn’t be behind the counter providing tanning services. Most important, we have to responsibly practice our trade, not those of medical doctors, epidemiologists and toxicologists. With an industry of professional people trained to fulfill the obligations of our trade according to standardized guidelines, we could stop the consistent onslaught of attack on our livelihoods.
Perhaps because of its seasonal nature, this industry tends to live year to year. We eagerly await the newest products to arrive in the fall, then utilize them during the peak season to earn as much revenue as we can. This mindset might hinder us from looking too far back or too far forward, thus discouraging the development of a long-term view of indoor tanning’s future in a changing market and society. If more of us had such a view, it might be easier to see that making health claims about indoor tanning has damaged this industry in the past and will continue to do us harm in the future. To help create a clearer view – both past, present and future – we’ve assembled this timeline that clearly illustrates how, when and why “Health Claims Road” has been the wrong one to take. Be forewarned, the information you are about to receive is not pretty!
Dr. Michael Holick presents a message that moderate sun exposure can be good for vitamin D production to a group of more than 300 tanning professionals gathered at the ITA World Expo in Nashville. At the time, Holick was the Professor of Medicine, Dermatology and Physiology, and the director of the General Clinical Research Center at Boston University Medical Center. He was also the director of the Vitamin D, Skin and Bone Center. Not long after Holick published his findings and conducted presentations at tanning industry trade events, he was stripped of his dermatology professorship by Dr. Barbara Gilchrest, the head of his department. Gilchrest also criticized Holick’s tanning industry ties and referred to his book as “an embarrassment.”
Following Dr. Holick’s announcement that moderate UV exposure produces vitamin D in the body, health claim-mania sweeps the tanning industry. After years of attacks by the media, some segments of the industry convince salon owners across the country that making health claims about indoor tanning products and services is the best way to fight back against tanning’s detractors. As a result, the message behind the health claims becomes the central focus of the industry’s direction over the next few years and is prominently featured in tanning salon training and certification programs, marketing and promotions campaigns and presentations given at tanning industry events. Lacking a unified message to the contrary, health claims becomes the tanning industry’s default message, which garners further negative media and political attention for years to come.
Canada’s Competition Bureau filed a consent agreement with the Competition Tribunal requiring a large Canadian salon chain to stop making representations to the public linking health benefits with indoor tanning. The salon chain and its president were ordered to stop promoting the unproven benefits of vitamin D – reduced risk of certain cancers, heart and cardiovascular conditions, and osteoporosis, as well as promoting UV tanning as a treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder and other ailments. The chain’s president agreed to pay an administrative monetary penalty of $62,500 and also made a donation of $12,500 to the Direct MS Charity of Alberta. The Competition Bureau is an independent law enforcement agency that promotes and maintains fair competition so that all Canadians can benefit from competitive prices, product choice and quality service. It oversees the application of the Competition Act, the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act, the Textile Labelling Act and the Precious Metals Marking Act.
Responding to pressures to create a “national advertising campaign” from salon professionals, the Indoor Tanning Association leads an effort to host a PR campaign conducted by Berman and Company. Manufacturers, distributors and salon owners shell out about $400,000 to retain the Washington, D.C.-based public relations firm to head up an aggressive campaign against indoor tanning’s detractors. Berman and Company creates a pro-tanning website, produced a TV commercial to air on cable news and ran a full-page ad in the NY Times.
The Federal Trade Commission launches an investigation into the Berman and Company advertising campaign designed to portray indoor tanning as safe and beneficial. In addition to denying the skin cancer risks associated with tanning, the campaign allegedly also made these false claims:
Indoor tanning is approved by the government;
Indoor tanning is safer than tanning outdoors because the amount of ultraviolet light received when tanning indoors is monitored and controlled;
Research shows that vitamin D supplements may harm the body’s ability to fight disease; and A National Academy of Sciences study determined that “the risks of not getting enough ultraviolet light far outweigh the hypothetical risk of skin cancer.”
That the Association failed to disclose material facts in its advertising.
The continued demand for a “national ad campaign” and continuing what the industry started causes the ITA and other industry members meet in Nashville to support “Round 2” of the Berman and Co. campaign. The attendance at this meeting is noticeably smaller than at the meeting the year before, and $40,000 is raised for the effort. It is likely that the FTC investigation prevented more industry professionals from further supporting this campaign.
Businesses offering indoor tanning are required to collect a ten percent excise tax on the services they provide. The provider must pay the excise tax – aka the “Tan Tax” – to the government on a quarterly basis. This was promoted heavily by the Skin Cancer Foundation. On its website, President Perry Robins, MD, stated, “Data from the Centers for Disease Control show that for every ten percent price increase, cigarette consumption drops by three to four percent among adults and six to eight percent among young people. We hope this tax will have the same effect on tanning bed use.”
ITA signs a Consent Decree with the FTC following a two-year investigation into the ITA’s health claims surrounding tanning and vitamin D. According to John Overstreet, ITA Director, this investigation was the result of the PR campaign known as the “Berman Campaign.” At the end of the two-year, half-million dollar process, the FTC did not dispute the ITA’s position that the body produces vitamin D when exposed to ultraviolet light from the sun or a tanning unit. The decree permits the ITA to make claims of tanning/ vitamin D production when engaging in commercial speech as long as there is a disclaimer and the language of the disclaimer is specified in the consent decree. The requirement that a disclaimer be included does not apply when the ITA is discussing tanning with media and/or policy makers.
The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce released an investigative report titled, “False and Misleading Health Information Provided to Teens by Indoor Tanning Industry.” According to the report, 78 percent of the salons interviewed by the committee falsely claimed that indoor tanning was beneficial to a young person’s health. The April 2012 issue of ist Magazine, called for a change in industry practice to focus on making NO health claims.
Good Morning America did a “sting report” on tanning salons, this time tricking salon staff into saying that DHA solution was “safe,” “good for pregnant women” and “so safe you can drink it.” Many salon employees made ridiculous statements about sunless tanning, proving once again that we, as an industry, need to STOP making health claims about ALL of our services.
A final judgment and agreed permanent injunction is reached between a Texas salon owner and the State of Texas. It is ordered that the salon owner shall: not advertise or represent that red-light devices can prevent, cure, treat or mitigate diseases unless they have been cleared for marketing or have premarket approval by the FDA, represent, market, promote or advertise… that using a tanning device is safe or free from risk or that using a tanning device will result in medical or health benefits, nor include any statement, claim, research, or link to research or other websites on the salon chain’s website or social network sites which implies that tanning devices… are a means or method of increasing levels of Vitamin D, reducing any health risks or affecting any medical conditions… other than to tan the skin. The salon chain was also ordered to pay $141,520.44 in associated costs. This judgment is a settlement of disputed claims, and the chain does not admit any wrongdoing, and they deny all of the Plaintiff’s claims.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signs Bill A2142 into law, banning people under the age of 17 from using commercial tanning units and/or sunless spray-tanning. To justify his decision, the normally business-friendly Christie cited the case of Patricia Krentcil, aka the “Tan Mom,” who was arrested for allegedly taking her young daughter into a tanning booth with her. NJ wasn’t the only state to enact tanning bans this year. On April 24, the Illinois Senate voted to pass Bill 2244, which bans under-18 tanning. The second was SB464, which passed W. Virginia’s Senate on March 18.
The dermatology academy launched a “Don’t Seek the Sun” campaign calling any advice to get sun “irresponsible.” It quoted Dr. Vincent DeLeo, a Columbia University dermatologist, as saying, “Under no circumstances should anyone be misled into thinking that natural sunlight or tanning beds are better sources of vitamin D than foods or nutritional supplements.”
For years, members of this industry have been convinced that making health claims about indoor tanning services is “the answer” to their problems with negative image. Some who’ve fought this battle have have earned the right to say that moderate tanning stimulates vitamin D production in the body, but at what price? Not only were these battles extremely costly to the tanning organizations and salon owners who’ve fought them, they also come with an even heavier price – the disclaimers that also must be included when making these claims. No wonder some industry leaders believe it’s better not to mention vitamin D production at all! Even so, there are still hundreds of tanning salon owners who continue to “roll the dice” by making various health claims about their services in hopes of retaining customers … and not getting caught. This begs the question, is it worth it? In light of the Health Claims Timeline provided here, can anyone explain how making health claims has propelled this industry forward? Closer to home, how many of your tanners really come to your salon for their “daily dose of vitamin D?” Has making health claims really added to your salon’s bottom line? These are the questions that must be asked – and answered – if this industry ever hopes to improve it’s image and continue to grow.
ist Magazine is interested in hearing what you have to say about this very important issue. E-mail your comments to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
A 14-year industry veteran, John "Ribby" Ribner has written hundreds of
articles for IST Magazine and, as Director of Editorial Content, has also
helped guide the publication's evolution. Ribby is a graduate of Central
Michigan University's journalism program and has brought many years of newspaper reporting experience to his position of Head Writer. He is also the author of three novels, "Legacy of the Bear," "Prophecy of the Bear" and "World So Dark."
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