I have an extreme aversion to people who position themselves as experts on a topic when in reality, they know very little indeed. Easy to spot, these individuals, or indeed organisations, who make bold claims or statements without any credible information or facts to back them up.
Of course, I’m referring to individuals and organisations whose members pit themselves as experts on indoor tanning and its relationship with skin cancer, specifically melanoma. And, of course, that happens to be one subject on which I believe I have acquired significant knowledge over the last 30 years.
The problem, I fear, is that having bought into the whole anti-tanning bed dogma, these people genuinely believe what they are saying. Unfortunately, you don’t have to dig too deeply to find that many such individuals have suffered and are surviving melanoma, either personally or in familial proximity. Essentially and understandably, they need someone or something to blame. And when it comes to melanoma, any victim of this awful disease who has ever used a tanning bed, perhaps even on just a handful of occasions, tends to look no further and self-diagnoses the tanning bed as the source of their disease.
As such, it is one of our ongoing challenges to educate and inform, thereby convincing not only melanoma victims but dermatologists, health policy decision makers and indeed all interested parties that whatever they may believe or have been told, when looked at objectively and scientifically, there is absolutely no substantive evidence to prove a causal relationship between responsible sunbed tanning and melanoma.
We have peer-reviewed, published scientific research that proves this and we also have peer-reviewed, published scientific research that shows responsible UV exposure reduces the risk of developing melanoma. What we don’t have is a media with any appetite to hear this, particularly as these facts and studies are all too often conveniently ignored by the anti-tanning lobby who do have the ear of the media for many reasons – but that’s another story!
Just recently, I engaged in a “conversation” on Twitter with a melanoma survivor from the UK who had perhaps rather surprisingly for me read one of my articles in IST Magazine – the reach of the Internet! As her comments were directed at me personally, this meant I simply couldn’t ignore them – red rag and bull come to mind! Amongst her accusatory tweets, the words “vile,” “ignorant” and “disgust” appeared in reference to me and my comments. Having never previously met or spoken with this individual, I felt justifiably miffed.
I suspect that these fanatics are honourable, but merely mistaken. They indulge in a simplistic and populist message that excites latent prejudice caused by ignorance and indolence. They enjoy slogans, but are unwilling to engage in reasoned argument.
A quick search on the Internet confirmed that yes, she was a melanoma survivor and had used a sunbed on occasion, but of far greater relevance was the fact she had regularly sunbathed on holiday abroad (where the intensity of the sun would be stronger) for long periods of time and without using sun protection. Yet, her melanoma was being utterly and completely attributed to her sunbed use, presumably through self-diagnosis – I have yet to determine that.
And herein lay other problems: our blame culture and our addiction to celebrity in the UK. Could it be that alongside a natural desire to want to blame someone when something dreadful happens, individuals are either consciously or sub-consciously presenting themselves as a statistic of a popular topic simply to grab 15 minutes of fame? For there’s one thing you can be sure of when it comes to tanning beds – there’s always an appetite for case studies in our media.
In the tanning industry since 1982, Gary is Managing Director of the UK subsidiary of Ergoline, and runs Ergoline Plus, the exclusive distributor for a wide range of sunless products and spray systems. He is also Chairman of the Media Committee for the UK’s Sunbed Association & a European Sunlight Association member.
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