Heat on Tanning Shops Leaves Owners Feeling Burned


WASHINGTON (March 27, 2010)—Indoor tanners and tanning businesses nationwide are outraged over the recently signed health care reform's 10 percent federal tanning tax that's expected to start boosting prices this summer.

"I think it sucks," said Scott Magnus, owner of College Park's Beach tanning centers for 15 years.

The tanning tax, which is expected to bring in $2.7 billion in 10 years, is to help fund the cost of the health care bill. Magnus said while he supports President Obama and universal health care, he doesn't think it's fair that tanning be "singled out" to pay for reform.

The tanning tax wasn't originally in the health care legislation, but was added in December to replace a planned 5 percent "Botax" on elective cosmetic surgeries like Botox treatments and tummy tucks.

The "Botax" would have brought in an expected $5.8 billion, double the expected tanning tax receipts.

Defenders of the tanning industry say the projected revenue is way overestimated.

"Most industry insiders believe that figure may be double or even three times too high," said an Indoor Tanning Association statement.

Magnus said the tax will be harming a "mostly mom and pop industry" as the majority of tanning salons are small businesses.

Tanning parlors in Maryland in particular have felt under attack because of a bill in the General Assembly to ban underage tanners from the salons. Minors now need parental consent. The bill received "unfavorable" reports committees in both the House and Senate, but narrowly.

And although that failed, tanning businesses are looking warily at Howard County, where minors are already banned from bronzing beds.

Howard County banned minors from tanning in salons in November; a move praised by legislators as groundbreaking.

Heather Hale, a 21-year-old Baltimore County resident, has been working at Dream Tanning in Ellicott City for six months.

Hale said a lot of high school students used to come after school and tan, but now she has to turn most of them away. They're even thinking about dropping student specials because they don't have many student clients anymore. Hale said it's had a big impact on the salon.

"Profits have gone down immensely," Hale said. "They're half of what they used to be."

Hale said imposing a tanning tax on top of the Howard County ban will have a huge impact, and that people already complain that tanning prices are too high.

Magnus said the tanning industry already gets a lot of flack because of the health hazards and "misinformation" associated with indoor tanning, and that those making legislation don't know what they're talking about.

Dermatologists and cosmetic surgery lobbyists fought hard to get the "Botax" out and the tanning tax in, citing the health risks associated with the UV bulbs used in indoor tanning.

The American Academy of Dermatology Association reports that when people use tanning beds before age 35 the risk of skin cancer goes up 75 percent.

Those who defend indoor tanning cite the body's need for Vitamin D, and that sun exposure is the best way to get it.

Magnus said that tanning isn't the biggest health risk facing the country, but that there are bigger issues, like obesity.

"McDonald's is killing a hell of a lot more people than tanning ever will," Magnus said. "I see fat people everywhere in our country, that's what driving up our health costs."

Magnus said that fast food should have been taxed instead of tanning, as it would have brought in a lot more revenue and would have lowered health care costs.

"It's kind of a double sword...not only are we fighting a lot of bad press, but now we're fighting this tanning tax," Magnus said. "It seems like everyone is blaming everything on us."

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

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