Probe: Tanning salons lure teens with lies


A new congressional report accuses tanning salons of lying to customers just to get their business.

The investigation found that often, tanning salons aren't just downplaying the risks of tanning, they're promoting benefits that don't exist to a young clientele that may not know better.

Every year, 28 million people use tanning beds, and young women age 16-to-29 are the backbone of the $2.6 billion industry.

They're targeted with student specials, homecoming specials, even deals for the prom.

But when congressional investigators contacted 300 tanning salons, identifying themselves as fair-skinned teenage girls, they were routinely given bad information about the risks involved.

Ninety percent of the salons told them indoor tanning posed no health dangers. Seventy-eight percent claimed indoor tanning would actually improve health, preventing diseases ranging from arthritis to lupus.

Fifty-one percent denied that indoor tanning increases the risk of skin cancer.

Dermatologists, such as Dr. Rhonda Rand, say nothing could be more misleading.

"It is so false," she emphasizes. "We know that skin cancer, especially melanoma, is on the rise, especially in women in their 20s, because they went to tanning salons in their teenage years."

Studies show the risk of melanoma goes up 75 percent when tanning bed use begins before the age of 30.

Melanoma is the most common form of cancer among white women between 15 and 29. And the rate of melanoma in that age group has risen 50 percent since the 1980s, as tanning salons have proliferated.

Four months ago, California became the first state to ban the use of indoor tanning devices for anyone under 18. Thirty-one more states have placed restrictions on teen tanning, such as requiring parents to accompany their kids.

Now, some House Democrats, such as Calif. Rep. Henry Waxman, are urging the Food and Drug Administration to consider reclassify tanning beds as unsafe for minors.

"We've got to start regulating these industries that are trying to target -- especially girls to come in and get a tan in a tanning salon and not reveal the risks involved when young people use these tanning salons," says Waxman.

To see the Nancy Cordes report, click on the video in the player above.

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    Nancy Cordes is CBS News' congressional correspondent.