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Where Can You Find Idaho’s State Senate on Twitter? Try #FAIL.


In a reversal of what has become something of a national trend, the Idaho State Senate rejected a bill passed by the House that would have prohibited children under the age of 16 from going to indoor tanning salons, and required parental permission for children aged 16 and 17.  Idaho, meanwhile, has the highest melanoma rates in the country.

My first response is outrage and incredulity, but beyond that, I am intensely curious.  What motivates a group of, presumably, intelligent men and women to make this kind of decision?  We know that UV lamps are carcinogenic.  We know that UV radiation damages the DNA of skin cells.  We know that indoor tanning salons market heavily to children and teenagers.  In the face of this large body of data, how does the Idaho Senate decide that exposing 14 and 15 year olds to UV lamps is somehow OK?

We find a few clues in the reports.  One Senator addressed the owner of an indoor tanning salon, “This is going to hurt your business, I’m trying to understand how much….”  The answer was striking: almost a third of their business comes from people under the age of 18!  The desire to avoid harming business is certainly admirable.  We are, after all, a capitalist society.   We are also, however, a society that institutes rules for those businesses based in products or practices that are fundamentally dangerous or unhealthy—particularly if the danger and risk affects children. 

Another clue can be found in the words of a lobbyist, who called the legislation an example of a “nanny state” and argued that it would restrict the rights of parents.  Many Americans, it seems to me, bristle at the idea of government encroaching on their lives.  Yet, the accusation of “nanny state” is not really applicable when it comes to laws protecting children.  We have a long and noble history of imposing restrictions on those who would imperil the health and life of the younger members of our society.  Child labor laws, limits to underage drinking, denying children access to cigarettes—these all have made our society stronger and healthier.

The rate of young people being diagnosed with melanoma, especially young women, is exploding.  There is no doubt in my mind that this spring a 15 year-old girl will go tanning to get ready for prom or summer vacation, with or without her parent’s knowledge.  At 25, that same girl, perhaps with a budding career, newly married, or 5 months pregnant, will be diagnosed with a melanoma that will end her life within the year. 

The Idaho State Senate has failed that 15 year-old girl.  This decision demonstrates that they have lost sight of their most fundamental duty—creating an environment in which the people they serve can flourish in their quest for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.