TRENTON -- The rate of teenage use of tanning beds in New Jersey has not dropped since passage of a law designed to outlaw their use by children under the age of 17, a survey by Rutgers University has found.

Tanning (.shock, Thinkstock)
.shock, Thinkstock

In fact, use of tanning beds even jumped among boys. reports the ban, designed to protect children from skin-damaging ultraviolet rays, went into effect in 2013.

A broad survey of 5,700 high school students the year before found that 6.7 percent of students under the age of 17 had used a tanning bed in the past year.

That same survey conducted the year after the ban showed the figure was 6.9 percent, or virtually unchanged.

"Simply having the legislation in place is a great first start, but it doesn't solve the problem entirely. The legislation is only as good as the way it's enforced," said Elliot Coups, an associate professor of medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, the study's lead author.

The results "highlight a need for continued monitoring of tanning facility operators to ensure they are adhering to the age restrictions put in place," Coups said.

What had changed from 2012 to 2014 was the gender split: The rate of male students increased from 5.8 percent to 8.6 percent. (Usage by girls remained the same, and continues to be higher than for boys.)

"That was something we had not anticipated. We were somewhat surprised by that," said Coups. His team then looked at similar surveys from other states, and did not find the same bump in indoor tanning use among boys.

"Whether this is something that is unique to New Jersey, we don't know," he said. "We don't have a good explanation for that."

The ban covers commercial tanning facilities, but not tanning devices used in private homes. That gap should be addressed in future legislation, the study authors stated.

Tanning beds for the home are widely available, although Coups said it was unlikely they accounted for more than a small segment of teen tanning. Still, they were an unregulated option available for some teens.

"You can put it in your home, and you can use it as much as you want," he said. "You can have friends over to use it, and that's becoming something of a social thing to do.

The ban allowed 17-year-olds to use a tanning salon only if a parent or guardian accompanies the child at the first visit to give consent.

Gov. Chris Christie signed it, noting he was opposed in general to meddlesome restrictions on small businesses.

"Nonetheless, I sign this bill because of the documented and well-understood risks associated with the misuse of indoor tanning systems," he added. "Use of tanning devices is particularly dangerous for the young, as studies indicate that individuals who begin tanning before age 35 have a 75 percent higher risk of melanoma."

The push to strengthen oversight of youth tanning came in the wake of news that a Nutley mother - quickly dubbed "Tanning Mom" for her unnaturally dark complexion - had taken her daughter along on her many trips to a tanning salon. The woman, Patricia Krentcil, was initially charged with child endangerment, but a grand jury later declined to indict her.

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