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The Daily Tar Heel

Tanning sparks debate in Chapel Hill

North Carolina bans tanning for children under 14 and requires parental consent for those under 18.

Some wish to further regulate the practice, including UNC junior Alana Zeitany, who petitioned the Chapel Hill Town Council to consider prohibiting free tanning beds at Chapel Hill apartments.

Zeitany’s petition has sparked a conversation about tanning in the community.

Cindy Short, property manager of Shortbread Lofts said Shortbread is certified as a tanning facility by North Carolina and that they highly regulate their accommodations.

Before using the beds, residents fill out a skin-typing questionnaire and sign a consumer statement saying they understand the health risks, Short said.

Then, a sign-in sheet is created to log how often a resident uses the beds. Residents have to be buzzed into the tanning beds by an employee and show that they have protective eyewear.

“As with the many other adult decisions we expect our residents to make, they can decide this,” Short said. “Here at Shortbread, we try to treat our residents as the adults we expect them to be, so we let them make their own decisions about the health risks.”

Matthew Howard, a professor for the UNC School of Social Work, applauded Zeitany’s efforts to draw attention to an important public health issue.

“It is a really good thing and a smart move because a lot of people don’t realize how big of a problem tanning beds and skin cancer are,” he said.

In 2012, Howard studied tanning dependence, where people tan excessively and become addicted.

Modified substance abuse standards were used to evaluate tanning addiction, and Howard said that a large percentage of tanning bed users could meet the criteria for tanning addiction.

“They use it to regulate their moods if they are anxious or depressed,” he said. “If they don’t go tanning, they seem to go through a withdrawal.”

Melanoma is the second most common cancer for young people 15 to 29 years old. About three-fourths of melanoma cases for adults aged 18 to 29 were attributable to tanning beds.

Despite the health risks associated with tanning beds, a study of the top 125 U.S. universities as listed by the U.S. News & World Report showed that 48 percent had indoor tanning facilities at on- or off-campus housing. Almost all of the off-campus residences provide it to residents for free.

“If we wouldn’t make it free, they would go somewhere else,” Short said. “It is something legal for them to do, so we provide it.”

John Anagnost, a graduate student at UNC in city and regional planning, wrote a letter to the editor following Zeitany’s petition to defend apartment complexes’ right to provide the amenity.

“I wouldn’t describe it as supporting tanning,” Anagnost said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s supporting private properties owners’ rights to use their property in the way that they choose.”

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