Tanning Salons Burned By New Health Law Indoor tanners must pay a 10 percent tax starting Thursday. Dermatologists hope this mandate will do for tanning beds what similar taxes have done for cigarettes -- encourage people to stop using them. But tanning salon owners say this is the last thing they need in a down economy.
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Tanning Salons Burned By New Health Law

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Tanning Salons Burned By New Health Law

Tanning Salons Burned By New Health Law

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

As we mentioned, tanning salon owners are furious over the 10 percent tax on their services. They say the new tax is the last thing they need in a struggling economy. But as NPR's Julie Rovner reports, dermatologists hope the new tax will deter tanning the same way tobacco taxes have helped cut down on smoking.

JULIE ROVNER: Relaxed is a spa and tanning salon located in the heart of the George Washington University campus just blocks from the White House. Owner Kris Hart is proud of the business he's built over the past four and a half years.

Mr. KRIS HART (Owner, Relaxed Spa and Tanning Salon): And we have eight rooms. We have stand up. We have lay down. The lay down has two different levels. There's gold and platinum, so it really depends on how many bulbs there are all around, how many fans, you know, what kind of equipment you have.

ROVNER: But Hart is worried about the impact of the new 10 percent tax on his mostly college-aged clientele.

Mr. HART: I don't imagine we're going to lose probably more than 10 to 12 percent of our customers. But I do think that the customers that we have will probably spend a little bit less here over the year. So it's going to have an impact on the bottom line. And what am I going to do? I'm going to end up letting go of employees.

ROVNER: Indeed, one customer made a point of buying her next series of 10 tanning sessions before the new tax took effect. But 19-year-old Christina Zottola, who says she comes to get tanned as often as three times a week right before a vacation, says she doesnt think a 10 percent tax will have much of an impact on her tanning habits.

Ms. CHRISTINA ZOTTOLA: No, it won't.

ROVNER: Zottola says there is one thing though that might stop her from tanning in the future.

Ms. ZOTTOLA: Just because it's not about the money, it's probably about not a good choice to keep tanning.

ROVNER: Hearing that from a very tan 19-year-old is good news and bad news for people like Allan Halpern. He's head of dermatology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and vice president of the Skin Cancer Foundation.

He says he's glad that some people are becoming aware that tanning isn't healthy. But most people still don't realize that it's just as bad for your skin to get a tan as it is to get sunburned.

Dr. ALLAN HALPERN (Dermatologist, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center): Because the tan is really a response to damage. So by definition, if you see the tan, it's because your cells have sensed that they've been damaged by ultraviolet.

ROVNER: And getting tanned in a tanning booth in order to lay down a base to prevent a sunburn is no way to prevent skin cancer. In fact, says Halpern, just the opposite is true.

Dr. HALPERN: Over the years, the data has become increasing conclusive that regardless of the type of tanning bed that you're using, it increases your risk for developing melanoma.

ROVNER: That's why Halpern and his fellow skin cancer specialists are happy to see indoor tanning being taxed. The question, though, is how big does the tax have to be before it actually changes behavior. With tobacco there's been a lot of research, and the studies are pretty clear, says Greg Haifley of the American Cancer Society.

Mr. GREG HAIFLEY (American Cancer Society): The studies show that for every 10 percent increase in the cost of a pack of cigarettes, you get a corresponding reduction in overall consumption of about four percent.

ROVNER: And the decrease is even bigger for younger smokers who are more sensitive to price. But it's not clear whether the tanning tax will have the same impact, or whether 10 percent will be enough to make a difference. Doctors like Allan Halpern clearly hope it will. But the idea that the federal government would impose a tax to try to address a public health concern infuriates tanning salon owner Kris Hart.

Mr. HART: I don't know when it was that the government was assigned in the Constitution to be my doctor. I think I should make decisions about how I exercise, what I eat, and you know, who I'm with and what activities I do. You know, before they know it, maybe they'll start taxing people if they don't go to the gym.

ROVNER: The new tax is estimated to raise $2.7 billion over the next 10 years. That money will be used to help offset the cost of the rest of the new health law.

Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

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