Regulation of Sunbeds Usage

[Speaking in the Seanad during Committee Stage of the Public Health (Sunbeds) Bill 2013]

There were 400 newly diagnosed cases of malignant melanoma in Ireland in 1998. That number had increased dramatically to 800 by 2008 and to 1,100 by 2010. Other kinds of skin cancer which are less life-threatening, but are still life-threatening and can certainly be disfiguring, and the treatment of which can pose health consequences, are also increasing. There is a critical need for us to tackle this problem, for example by means of an aggressive education campaign targeted at those who are most vulnerable.

I would like to explain why I support this Bill. I acknowledge that people have a right to make bad choices about their own health. People have the right to sit in the sun and sizzle and burn if they wish. However, we have an obligation to inform them off the foolhardiness of that position. Adults have the right to go tanning parlours if they wish. However, no one has the right to profit commercially from deliberately causing someone else to be exposed to a carcinogenic influence. This is the fundamental logic we have used in our attempt to get Governments in Europe to commit to a long-term policy of criminalising the for-profit commercial sale of tobacco products, or indeed any commerce in such products. No civil or human right to engage in such activity exists. If one wants to grow tobacco in one’s back garden and roll it up for one’s own use, that is fine.

No one has a God-given or constitutional right, or any kind of right, to profit from giving someone an addictive carcinogen. I believe the same logic applies in this case. No business has a right to do something which is clearly without health benefit and is clearly very dangerous for someone who is very vulnerable. To approach it from a psychological perspective, there is a literature which suggests the possibility that there is a low level of addiction to suntanning. There are people who suspend their own logical faculties and make bad decisions because they have become addicted to something that somebody else encouraged them to use for their own profit.

At the moment, the only professional interaction that a foolhardy, bad, poorly, pale-skinned, red-haired and freckled Irish person has when he or she is deciding whether to go to a tanning parlour is the advice that he or she receives from the fellow who is flogging the time on the bed and therefore has a dog in the fight. This legislation would at least impose an obligation on such a person to see a doctor and get medical advice about it. One of the best ways of dealing with this is for people who have had melanoma to start suing tanning parlours. That is the way to do it. I hope people will start doing that some day. If someone has a note from his or her doctor saying that he or she has been cautioned explicitly about the specific and quantifiable risks to health associated with doing something as foolish as this for somebody else’s profit, that might well provide a degree of indemnity and immunity against prosecution. It is something I believe the industry should embrace.

…… As the Minister knows, I am not sure where the Bill was for a while. I raised this matter on the Adjournment two terms ago because I feel very strongly about it. I see an awful lot of malignant melanoma in my practice. I see an awful lot of unbelievable tragedies that result from this disease, which disproportionately affects young people and young middle-aged people. We need to do everything in our power to eliminate it. This is a step along the way.

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The sugar analogy is inaccurate because we all need sugar or a certain carbohydrate intake to live. …….. People who have problems with sugar metabolism must have it regulated and delivered in a particular fashion. Nobody needs cigarettes or a sunbed to live. People use these products not for the sake of their health or because they are a necessity but recreationally or – certainly in the case of cigarettes and possibly in the case of tanning beds – due to a degree of psychological addiction. The question is not one of banning people from using them but from profiting from them. A person with light skin, red hair and freckles can sit in the sun if he or she wishes and nobody is stopping him or her from doing so. My colleagues, whom I support, are attempting to stop people from profiting from sunbeds because, inevitably, subtly or overtly, the opportunity to do so gives people an incentive to market their services in some way.

My colleagues insist only that these people must get a medical report in the same way people do for certain occupations. I would be prohibited from doing certain jobs because I have visual impairment and a degree of hearing impairment. When our children were a little younger we have all stood in lines for rollercoasters where there are signs denying entry to people with heart disease. This is not creating a nanny state but using health knowledge to protect people. In the rollercoaster example, the only potential harm is to oneself. It is not even the same as stopping a person who suffers from epileptic seizures from driving a train because in that situation other people could be harmed. It is spurious.

I cannot let this amendment pass without commenting on the fact that the region of our country with the highest incidence of skin cancer, the sunny south east, has no dermatology service. The dermatologist resigned a few months ago leaving 3,000 untyped but dictated reports with no support for a service which he provided with many months of advance notice that his colleague would be taking maternity leave. Now that the colleague is on maternity leave, there is nobody to see patients who may have skin cancer in the part of the country with the highest level of skin cancer. This is wrong. The HSE has made the decision not to provide the service by omission, not commission, and it is a terrible blunder.

I heard the details of it today while discussing melanoma and sunbeds with some other experts and I am beside myself with anger. Recently I met the latest spin doctor appointed by HIQA. While we are not hiring doctors to treat a cancer which has tripled in incidence in this country in 13 years, the health service is spending money on spin doctors for the national agency. It is as if when the Titanic was sinking somebody said the White Star Line did not need more lifeboats but to hire better press representatives for its lifeboat inspectors.

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