Wednesday

21st Feb 2024

Sunbeds cause cancer, Brussels says

The European Commission on Thursday (6 July) declared war on low safety standards in the sunbed industry, after a new report said sunbeds aggravate skin cancer and eye cataracts.

"Currently there is no upper limit [on radiation strength] for manufacturers producing sunbeds," the commission's industry spokesman Gregor Kreuzhuber stated. "You could have a product which is basically barbecuing you."

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  • Beware: the EU hopes its public message will plug the legal gap (Photo: Wikipedia)

The commission has no direct legal power on health but aims to use an existing directive on electrical goods - stipulating all goods must be "safe" - to leverage action by member states' product standards agencies.

German industry commissioner Gunter Verheugen is also hoping the EU report will motivate Europeans to change their ways, with young British girls' sunbed culture giving rise to slang terms like "the Posh and Becks syndrome" in recent years.

"The Posh and Becks syndrome" refers to teenagers who model themselves on perma-tanned British celebrity couple Victoria and David Beckham.

"What we can do is to transmit a message about the risk. We will seek to use a soft law approach," the commission's Mr Kreuzhuber said. "We believe that we will soon see a change in the use of sunbeds."

The 43-page EU-sponsored report is short on statistics and comes to similar conclusions as the World Health Organisation in 2003, saying the UK had 54 sunbed cancer deaths in 2002.

People with fair skin, freckles and red hair who spend a lot of time outside, like the Swedes, are especially at risk. People with large, fuzzy-shaped moles or with a history of skin cancer in the family should also watch out, the study says.

Some sunbed lamps - such as Cleo natural and Cleo performance - are stronger than natural sunlight, while many sunbed users also tan outside in a compound effect. The "Posh and Becks" ideal can also lead to dry, saggy skin.

Scientists were unable to find an explanation for the feel good factor that many sunbed users report however, saying the tanner's smile is not linked to higher levels of hormones such as serotonin, melatonin or opioid peptide.

The Brussels-based trade lobby - the European Sunlight Association (ESA) - was consulted during the research "but not in such a way that our recommendations were taken on board" a spokesman told EUobserver.

"There is no definite scientific proof to link sunbed use to melanoma [skin cancer]," he indicated, adding that the €3 billion a year sector employs 100,000 people and already attaches safety manuals to its products.

UK biologist and health writer Oliver Gillie said "sun lamps have an important future in Europe, but I'm not sure they've produced the most suitable type of lamp yet, which would have the same balance as natural sunlight."

European diet and lifestyle changes in the past 50 years are causing vitamin D deficiencies in most European societies, with healthy-type sun lamps potentially helping to solve the problem, he explained.

The European Commission tried to push through a law on exposure to sunlight at work last year, but the "sunlight directive" unravelled among tabloid jokes that Brussels wants to ban cleavage and short skirts.

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