Regulation for the use of tanning sunbeds

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

Ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a dhéanamh leis an Aire ar an Bhille. It is great news that the Bill has passed. In addition to the practical implications of protecting young people against the harmful effects of unnecessary ultraviolet radiation, it gives us a great opportunity to hammer home the message that Ireland’s gene pool has the highest incidence of malignant melanoma. Irish people who live in sunny places such as Australia have the highest demographic of this disease anywhere in the world. This is an emergency problem facing Ireland. The Minister has outlined the numbers, 400 cases in 1998, 800 cases in 2008 and 1,100 this year. The incidence of melanoma is rising very dramatically. There have been, as the Minister pointed out, extraordinary advances, probably bigger advances in the treatment of this cancer in the past two years than of any other cancer. They will give us unique health economic challenges in the next few years when very expensive and effective new drugs are presented for health technology assessments to HIQA. Virtually all cases of metastatic melanoma can be prevented if people were diagnosed early. It must be stated that the key problem is diagnosing the disease when it is confined to the skin, when it has an extremely high rate of cure.

Having successfully shepherded this laudable and worthwhile Bill through the Seanad, the next challenge is to ensure that we have dermatologists in the south east region and that Ireland is lifted off the bottom of the league table of dermatologists per head of population of any country in the OECD, which is a distinction that we do not need. In addition, we need to make as major an educational effort on wholly avoidable excess sun exposure, sunburn, dangerous UV radiation exposure as he and others have done successfully with tobacco. We need to make this a major priority.

When I was a medical student and studying oncology, we thought of melanoma as a terrible but a very uncommon disease. It is not uncommon any more. Melanoma is now more common in Ireland than many of the other cancers which have much higher profiles. As a cause of death from cancer, melanoma is no longer rate. It is becoming a major problem which must be tackled on all fronts, prevention by this worthwhile legislation and education, facilitating early diagnosis by having adequate numbers of skin specialists. We need to be ready for the challenge we will face when the new drugs come on the market.

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