Ireland ranks highly for skin cancer risk

The Public Health (Sunbeds) Act 2014, was signed into law on 24 June 2014 and states that the sale or hire of a sunbed to any person under 18 years-of-age is illegal. The act was introduced to regulate the use of sunbeds by those under 18, in order to reduce their likelihood of developing skin cancer.

This means that people under the age of 18 can’t use sunbeds while on the premises of a tanning salon and are prohibited to enter areas of the business where they keep their sunbeds.

It had been known that teenagers are recruited by the HSE to take part in a “test purchase procedure” in which they send teenagers between the ages of 15-17 to go undercover and try buy sunbed sessions from tanning businesses.

Following a  Freedom of Information request, it has been revealed that there have been 101 occasions in which a teenager (between 15 and 17) has been sent to a sunbed premises by the HSE since the commencement of the test purchasing programme. The FOI disclosed 12 contraventions resulted during these inspections.

The HSE Environmental Health Service has recorded 62 non-compliances with the age restriction provisions of sunbeds legislation, which is an Act breach under section 4, 5 and 6 of the legislation.  

A spokesperson for the HSE said: “It is widely accepted that one of the only practicable enforcement options available to control authorities in relation to sales to minors is through a test purchase procedure. Section 18 of the Public Health (Sunbeds) Act 2014 permits the use of test purchase procedures.

“Test Purchase involves the sending of a volunteer minor aged 15 to 17 years-of-age into sunbed premises for the purpose of the person using, purchasing or hiring a sunbed on those premises. The intention is to ascertain if the owner, manager or employee is complying with the legal provisions regarding the sale, use or hire of a sunbed on a sunbed premises to under aged persons.”

When asked about the success of the teenage programme, the spokesperson said: “The main evidence to show the success of the legislation, focusing on its primary purpose, protection of minors, can be seen in the reduction in non-compliant outcomes for test purchase inspections while the number of test purchase inspections has increased. The reduction in overall infringements is indicative of an increase in compliance and understanding of the law and the continued enforcement.”

In 2016, 25 test purchasing inspections were carried out with six non-compliant outcomes. In 2017, 47 test purchasing inspections were carried out with five non-compliant outcomes.

A person who commits an offence under the legislation is liable on conviction to pay a fine of up to €4,000 or could be imprisoned for up to six months. It was revealed that the HSE inspections have resulted in 23 fixed penalty notices of €300 each, and four prosecutions for not notifying the HSE of operation as a sunbed business. Out of the four prosecutions, only three resulted in convictions with fines of €300, €650 and €250.

Each sunbed establishment is required to pay a notification fee of €120 to the HSE, and as of September 2018, there are 516 sunbed businesses on the national database. There has been a high compliance rate with the requirement for a sunbed business operator to notify their business to the HSE annually  with less than 2% not notified in 2018.

There were a total of 489 inspections of sunbed businesses carried out in 2017, compared to 264 in the first six months of 2018. In 2017, 184 infringements of the Act were discovered compared to 121 in 2018 so far.

In a report from July 2018, it was revealed that Ireland is ranked 14th out of 62 countries on the international skin cancer index, investigated by Derma Plus.

The report acknowledged that the high levels of UV light exposure, when mixed with a lighter skin tone, led to higher rates of skin cancer.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), regular exposure to UV radiation should not exceed two sessions per week with a max of 30 minutes per session. Sunbeds mainly emit UVA radiation, which activates the melanin pigment already embedded in the upper skin cells.

There has been significant research on the link between sunbeds and cancer. The Environmental Health Association of Ireland have claimed that 7 percent of the Irish population uses tanning beds and that 3 percent of them use them once a week. The chance of getting melanoma is increased by 75 percent when someone under the age of 30 uses a sunbed.

Figures from the HSE show that there are approximately 8,000 cases of non-melanoma skin cancer every year and 800 cases of malignant melanoma.

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