Despite a few objections to the contrary, ist Magazine and Sun Is Life Trade School still maintain that making health claims about indoor tanning is not in this industry’s best interest.
Last month, our cover story discussed the negative impact of making health claims about indoor tanning services and why this industry needs to abandon that practice. History has shown that making health claims about indoor tanning has done an untold amount of damage to the tanning business (see timeline), yet so many salon professionals still cling to this practice. These salon pros still believe that health claims are the proverbial “silver bullet” that will save their businesses, and they back this up with more than ten years of improper industry training practices. IST Magazine/Sun is Life disagrees, instead maintaining the position that the tanning industry must end the practice of making medical claims about salon services if it is to move forward.
In last month’s cover story, we invited readers to respond to the story, asking salon owners how they believe health claims have propelled our industry forward. We also asked them how many tanners actually come to their salons for a “daily dose of vitamin D”, as well as how making health claims about their services has added to their salon’s bottom line. While the responses we received didn’t address these questions specifically, some readers raised objections to ist Magazine/Sun is Life’s message – that tanning pros need to stop making health claims in their marketing and promotions. In this month’s installment, we’ve summed up these objections and offer our responses.
Some salon pros believe that the medical claims they make about UV tanning are facts, so they should have nothing to worry about if they pass this information on to their guests. Yes, moderate tanning has been proven to stimulate vitamin D production in the body, but you can’t tell your tanners that… unless you’re also willing to share a disclaimer that says “You do not need to become tan for your skin to make vitamin D. Exposure to ultraviolet radiation may increase the likelihood of developing skin cancer and can cause serious eye injury.”
“Since at least 2001, this industry has known that there is a connection between moderate tanning and vitamin D production in the body,” said Tony Brown, Sun Is Life Director. “Utilizing this information in a commercial manner, however, is a very risky practice. The Indoor Tanning Association spent thousands of dollars fighting for the right to make this claim, and in the end, they’re allowed to do so, but not without the disclaimer. A couple salon owners thought they could make health claims without the disclaimer – one agreed to a permanent injunction with the state’s attorney general’s office for $141,520.44 in court fees and was ordered to cease marketing, promoting and making claims about health benefits of indoor tanning and/or red-light therapy sessions. A similar thing happened to a salon owner in Canada, who had to pay a penalty of $62,500 to the country’s Competition Bureau as a result of making similar health claims.”
One of the biggest objections to adopting the Sun Is Life message is the notion that salons will somehow go out of business if operators can no longer make health claims to the public about their tanning services. At least one salon chain owner indicated that while she knows she’s risking a run-in with her state’s attorney general’s office, she believes that health claims are her only chance to persuade tanners to continue their memberships. She says it’s particularly useful for retaining clients who’ve been frightened by anti-tanning rhetoric in the media.
￼“It’s not all they have,” Brown said, “they have a chance to promote professionalism and that’s what salon owners should hang their hats upon. Nobody got into this industry thinking they were going to provide people with vitamin D. They opened their salons because they wanted to provide a service that helps people look and feel good. We recommend salon owners use their knowledge, talents and salesmanship to continue helping people enjoy moderate indoor tanning. If an increased vitamin D level is something your salon guests develop from the process then it’s a bonus, but that’s not what we need to be selling.”
Some salon owners who’ve advocated making health claims about tanning are willing to fight for this, almost literally. They feel that our industry’s detractors need to be met head-on, and to do anything less is tantamount to planting a white flag in the soil and shouting, “We surrender!” Sadly, some of these folks have suggested that ist Magazine and Sun Is Life have “rolled over” at the first sign of opposition from our foes, a belief which totally ignores the past 10-15 years of tanning industry history.
“No one ever said anything about surrendering,” Tony replied, “it’s just that the battle needs to be fought on a different front because the existing one has obviously been bad for our industry. We have no way to define the ‘dose’ of vitamin D, or at what UV exposure on what skin type, and considering different genetic factors in order to make generic, one-size-fits-all characterizations about how much vitamin D a person can get from an indoor tanning session. Continuing to ‘practice medicine’ is the sure road to the demise of this industry but professionalism and standardized education are our future. We all need to be calling the same plays from the same playbook.”
Today, the health claims battle is mainly being fought on one front – the indoor tanning salon. Many operators are “educating” their tanners about the relationship between UV exposure 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 must aspire. “This industry has been littered with problems since we first tried practicing medicine in 2001,” Tony Brown said. “This is why we need to take the other road, the one that leads us to the image of professionalism that results from treating the tanning salon business as a trade. We have to responsibly practice our trade, not that of a medical doctor, epidemiologist or toxicologist.”
The solution is a new kind of training… or retraining, really. “Sun Is Life® Trade School is designed to increase professionalism and communicate a standardized message with the public in a confident and positive manner,” Tony said. “One of the ways we stress this is by discouraging salon professionals from making health claims while also providing many concrete ways in which a salon owner and their staff can increase the level of professionalism at their business and their image in the community. 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!”
Are you one of the many salons owners who continue to “roll the dice” each month by making various health claims about your services? If so, please explain to us how making health claims have helped benefitted your salon’s bottom line and helped to propel our industry forward. Or, are you one of the new professionals that believe that the stability and eventual growth of this “look good/feel good” industry depends upon education, training and a message of moderate tanning? If so, we’d love to hear how you grow your business and succeed without making medical claims. All of your thoughts are very important because this issue is bound to have a profound effect upon the future direction of indoor tanning in America.
Looking at the tanning industry’s history, it’s easy to see that making health claims about our services has damaged our credibility and will continue to do us harm. We’ve assembled this timeline to clearly illustrate 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 assists in the body’s vitamin D production to more than 300 tanning professionals gathered at the Indoor Tanning Association World Expo in Nashville, TN. Shortly after Holick published his findings, he was stripped of his dermatology professorship by Dr. Barbara Gilchrest, the head of his department at Boston University Medical Center, who 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. The message behind the health claims becomes the primary direction of the industry over the next few years and is prominently featured in salon operator training and certification programs, marketing campaigns and presentations at tanning industry events. This garners negative media and political attention for years to come.
In a consent agreement, Canada’s Competition Bureau requires a large Canadian salon chain to cease making representations to the public linking health benefits with indoor tanning. The chain’s president agreed to pay an administrative monetary penalty of $62,500 and also donate $12,500 to the Direct MS Charity of Alberta.
Responding to pressures to create a “national advertising campaign,” the Indoor Tanning Association leads an effort to host a PR campaign conducted by Berman and Company. Manufacturers, distributors and salon owners donate about $400,000 to retain the Washington, D.C.-based public relations firm to head up an aggressive campaign against indoor tanning’s detractors.
The Federal Trade Commission launches an investigation into the Berman and Company ad campaign designed to portray indoor tanning
as safe and beneficial. In addition to denying the skin cancer risks associated with tanning, the FTC alleged that the campaign allegedly made a number of false health claims.
The continued demand for a “national ad campaign” causes the ITA and other industry members to meet in Nashville to support “Round 2” of the Berman and Co. campaign. Roughly $40,000 is raised for the effort.
Businesses offering indoor tanning are required to collect a ten percent excise tax on their services. 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.
ITA signs a Consent Decree with the FTC following a two-year investigation into the ITA’s health claims surrounding tanning and vitamin D. The investigation was the result of the PR efforts known as the “Berman Campaign.” The decree permits the ITA to make claims of tanning/vitamin D production when engaging in commercial speech as long as it is accompanied by a specific and strongly-worded disclaimer.
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.
Good Morning America did a “sting report” on tanning salons, this time tricking salon staff into saying that DHA (sunless tanning) solution was “safe,” “good for pregnant women” and “so safe you can drink it.”
A final judgment and agreed permanent injunction is reached between a Texas salon owner and the State of Texas. The salon owner was ordered to cease advertising health claims in association with indoor tanning and red-light services. He was also ordered to pay $141,520.44 in associated court costs.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signs Bill A2142 into law, banning people under the age of 17 from using commercial tanning units and/or spray-tanning. 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. 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 exposure “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.”
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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