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Tanning law singes personal rights

Illinois stepped over the edge Thursday and chose to further intrude into the lives of its minion residents by joining nanny states California, New Jersey, Oregon and Vermont in banning indoor tanning for anyone under age 18 starting Jan. 1.

The reasoning is noble: Overexposure to ultraviolet radiation used in many tanning devices can lead to skin cancer. Dermatologists estimate 10 visits to a tanning bed can double the risk of someone developing melanoma.

Cancer is an insidious and vile disease that unfortunately will touch many of our lives, whether directly or indirectly, at some point. Certainly it is worth doing what can reasonably be done to prevent such occurrences, especially among young adults.

Yet with the exception of a mom seeking 15 minutes of fame and a character on an MTV reality show who probably glows orange in the dark, is there anyone who doesn’t recognize the importance of moderation?

Education has helped raise awareness of the risks involved. The majority of the 1 million people who use tanning salons nationwide each day are aware of the potential dangers and take the personal responsibility to exercise caution.

It’s often the extremists who get singled out and confused for the “typical” tanner.

“Proponents of these laws always exaggerate the risks of exposure to ultraviolet light in order to get the attention of the public, the media and the government,” contends the Indoor Tanning Association. The group, which represents thousands of tanning businesses, also challenges the correlation between tanning and cancer.

We won’t try to dig up pretend science that questions whether using radiation to get that deep, dark tan presents health issues. It does – just as it does being outside without sunscreen. There are also some people who are simply predisposed to developing cancer.

But it becomes a question of how far government should interject itself into the role of playing parent. Why does the state seem intent on changing its motto from “State sovereignty, national unity” to “in loco parentis” (in the place of a parent)?”

Teenagers comprise about 8 percent of those using indoor tanning facilities – about 2.3 million from the 28 million customers last year. Illinois already prohibited those under 14 from tanning salons, but allows minors between 14 and 17 to tan with parental consent. Two cities – Springfield and Chicago – banned teen tanning completely.

To truly target the problem, the state also needs to go after the source of most teens’ tans: The sun. Perhaps prohibiting those under 18 from being outside in summer between the hours of noon and 7 p.m. could be next, or requiring families to seek waivers before taking the children out to the beach for the day.

Republican Sen. Christine Radogno of Lemont co-sponsored the bill that Gov. Pat Quinn signed Thursday because, according to The Associated Press, “she said she hated it when her daughters would tan.”

“We just have to make pale beautiful again,” Radogno told the news agency.

Or maybe, just maybe, we just should have made parents say “no” again. Make them take responsibility for making informed decisions for themselves and their children.

We should have left the state out of it, though. There are other matters that should be occupying its time.

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