Off to Albany for Skin Cancer Advocacy

During the summer of 2012 I worked part time for the American Cancer Society (ACS) while I was pursuing my Master’s Degree. I was helping the organization in its Making Strides Against Breast Cancer initiative in Buffalo, New York. It was worthwhile work and I met a lot of great people who had dealt with many of my issues. It was the place where I learned about advocacy and how to stand for what I believed.

The tanning bed ban

One morning as I was getting to know some of the permanent staff I mentioned my skin cancer diagnosis. I was immediately asked if I would consider going to our state capitol in Albany to lobby on behalf of ACS’ sister advocacy agency (501©4) the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ASCAN). Initially ASCAN was lobbying for a bill in the state senate that proposed to ban teens (under 18 years of age) from being able to tan in tanning salons in New York State. At the time, New York banned indoor tanning for children under 14 years of age, but youths from 14-17 could tan with their parental permission.

Research about ultra violet rays from tanning beds

I agreed to go to Albany on what is known as “Lobbying Tuesday”. It was the day that regular citizens may set up appointments with state legislators to advocate for pending legislation. I hopped on the New York State Thruway and in a few hours’ time I was at the steps of the Capitol. I met with representatives from ASCAN, a researcher and other advocates who had previously fought skin cancer. Our pitch and belief centered around research that ultra violet rays from tanning lamps were more harmful than the sun’s rays and that the current law was being circumvented and not enforced. We had found that a large portion business owners were not requiring proof of parental consent for at-risk teens in the day-to-day operations. This was a community health issue.

Educating the pro-business senators

Our group met with a handful of state senators and/or their aides from both sides of the aisle. Many supported the Bill and were sympathetic to our stories and were interested in our research. There were others who expressed concerns about the possible economic impact this might have on their constituents. One state senator immediately informed me that he was “pro-business” and likely would not be swayed by our efforts. After our presentation, he told us that while he would not vote for the Bill that we had moved him closer to our position. We were grateful for being able to move the mark with him on this issue.

The bill passed, sort of

Eventually, the Bill passed the state Senate, but in a modified form. The amended Bill banned children under the age of 17 from using indoor tanning beds. Business owners would be required to simply look at identification for proof of age and parental consent was not an issue and therefore could not be circumvented. We may not have gotten all that we wanted, but we got some of it. In this case, we changed the quality of the conversation.

Moving ahead

On April 12, 2017, Bill Number A7218 was introduced into the state Assembly that would “prohibit children under the age of 18 from using tanning facilities and removes procedures in granting 17-18 year olds access to tanning booths and exempts licensed physicians who use or prescribe a phototherapy device with respect to a patient of any age.”1 The justification for this current Bill is much the same as we cited five years previously. Opponents of the Bill, such as, Joseph Levy, a scientific advisor for the American Suntanning Association argue that an unintended consequence of the Bill would be to push teen to “unregulated tanning facilities.”2

In my opinion, if the “regulated” tanning facilities are not adhering to the current laws, then they are “unregulated” and need additional, required governance.

Lessons learned

What have a learned? I learned that I do have a voice. I can make a difference, especially if I find like-minded folks with which to partner. I learned that the force of a community like our online group can move the mark. Together we can make a difference both in the prevention of skin cancer and the amelioration of its effects.

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