Iowans for Tanning Ban Prepare to Lobby Lawmakers this Week

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DES MOINES, Iowa - For years, Traci Noll says she was addicted to the tanning bed.

"Once I got into college, I actually worked at a tanning salon for a long time," she said. "And that's kind of what kind of gave me that wake-up call, you see lots of clients who are tanning every single day, and what it's doing to their skin."

Three years ago, Noll traded in the tanning bed for a spray bottle; wanting to offer a healthier alternative to tanning beds, Noll now runs her own spray tan salon, Tanique, in West Des Moines.

"Once I came to Des Moines, I just wanted to find a healthy alternative for people who are looking to be tan but not have all those risks," she said.

Those risks include skin cancer - something Cedar Rapids native Andrea Ard is well aware of. Ard tanned all throughout high school and college, discovering at the age of 25 that she had malignant Melanoma. Now in remission, Ard is advocating for a law that would ban minors in the state from using tanning beds.

"When people think of cancer, they think of it only happening to older people," Ard said. "To somebody who has tanned their entire life. You don't think that, 'Oh, if I tan at the age of 16 five days a week, that within five years, I'm going to have cancer.' You don't think that."

Ard will join about a hundred others Tuesday at the State Capitol to urge lawmakers to act on the issue. And it's not a new issue within the legislature, either; for several years now, Senator Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames) has tried introducing legislation that would prohibit Iowans 18 and under from using tanning beds.

Each legislative session, Sen. Quirmbach says his proposal makes it a littler further down the line - but it's never been passed by both chambers and sent to the governor's desk. In 2015, the Iowa Senate passed his proposal, but it died in the House. This session, House lawmakers have resurrected the bill, amending it to prohibit Iowans 17 and under from using tanning beds.

"There are many people who feel very strongly that this is a parental choice issue," said State Representative Greg Forristall (R-Macedonia). "And that's why we changed the age from under 18 to under 17, to get more support in that group."

House lawmakers have cleared the now-amended bill from a committee, so it's floor-eligible and could be voted on any day now. Sen. Quirmbach says, while he's disappointed the age was bunked down by one year in his proposal, he's happy to see progress, and thinks his colleagues would be willing to compromise on the age limit to see reform finally pass.

"I'm happy it's moving forward, if they want to propose to move it down to anyone under 17, we're willing to discuss that," he said.

Now, advocates like Ard are hoping to provide the finishing touches to nudge lawmakers to take action and send this bill to Governor Branstad's desk.

"I think that 2016 is going to be the year that minors will not be able to tan under the age of 18," she said.

For Noll, there's a visible change in people's opinions on tanning beds, and she's noticing more people coming into her business looking for a healthier alternative.

"I think the exposure that's on the issue is gaining traction," she said. "I can tell from my own personal business that there are more girls coming in for those events. And I think that's great, and I encourage all of them to go back to school and tell their friends about it."

Lawmakers say the medical community is rallying behind the cause, as well. And as for representatives from the tanning industry? They aren't against a tanning ban for minors, either, according to legislators familiar with the issue, because minors make up such a small percentage of their business.

"They have categorized tanning beds as a carcinogen, which is the same as tobacco, Noll said. "So you're essentially saying, would you give a kid a pack of cigarettes? No. So why would you let them get into a tanning bed?"

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