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Public Health (Sunbeds) Bill 2013: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 830 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Patrick O'Donovan: Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan] Sunbeds are cancer-causing agents and, as with the case of tobacco, the State has a duty to act in respect of all such agents. Previous speakers noted Government action on the control of tobacco in the workplace. This legislation is another positive development which brings Ireland into line with other states both in the European Union and further afield. It also adopts the recommendations made by the World Health Organization on sunbed use, especially by children. Children are being exposed to ultraviolet radiation in an unregulated manner. When a conflict arises between individual rights and the public good, the Government must err on the side of the public good by introducing regulation.

Children of seven and eight years preparing to make their first holy communion are being exposed to ultraviolet radiation in an unregulated manner. This has the potential to cause serious short-term and long-term problems. I find it difficult to understand how a parent could expose his or her child to the possibility of developing skin cancer for the sake of appearing tanned or standing out from his or her peers in a photograph at a religious ceremony. This practice, which Deputies will be familiar with from their constituencies, is wrong and must be stopped. It is a sad reflection on society that legislation of this nature must be introduced to protect children.

In 2012, some 156 people died from melanomas and 7,000 others contracted melanomas and survived. Clearly, not all of these cancers can be ascribed to the use of sunbeds and some will have been caused by exposure to other forms of ultraviolet radiation. It is not pleasant to watch someone die from skin cancer. I speak from personal experience as my uncle died of skin cancer and secondary cancers. It is not a nice experience. Children are essentially being placed in what could be described as a microwave oven and cooked from the outside in to look good on a photograph. Government action to address this practice is long overdue. The Bill is, therefore, appropriate.

I welcome the proposal to regulate sunbed use for people aged over 18 years. If adults wish to continue to use sunbeds, so be it, but the Bill provides that they will do so in a regulated environment. As previous speakers noted, there is little point introducing legislation if it is not enforced by health authorities at local level or the Health Service Executive. The legislation must be enforced in a manner that is mindful that people make a living from sunbeds, which are a legitimate business. The position here is similar to the position in respect of cigarettes. One cannot have shops selling cigarettes to ten and 11 year old children or treat children of that age the same as 18 year olds. This is the kernel of the Bill.

We must consider the broader of issue of respecting the sun. The weather of recent days makes discussion of the sun appear irrelevant. We should contrast the programmes introduced in Australia to protect children from ultraviolet radiation from the sun with what is being done here. One of the advertisements running on television illustrates the Irish mentality in matters relating to sun. As soon as a ray of sunlight appears, everybody togs off and tries to get a good burn to ensure they have a tan. This mentality must be changed through education programmes that show people that exposure to ultraviolet radiation increases the risk of dying from a painful condition, namely, skin cancer. As was the case with the tobacco industry, we must appreciate the effects of ultraviolet radiation and exposure to the sun. We must cop on and accept that sunbeds have the potential to cause serious damage.

This is welcome if overdue legislation as it is probably being introduced too late for many people who may have been exposed to radiation from sunbeds in an unregulated environment. It is a start and I hope the Minister and his officials will make arrangements to ensure it is properly enforced.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I note some Deputies did not appear at the correct time. We will sort everything out in due course.

Deputy Terence Flanagan: Information on Terence Flanagan Zoom on Terence Flanagan I welcome the Bill, which introduces measures to restrict access to sunbeds for those aged under 18 years. Sunbeds will also be prohibited in unsupervised premises. I am pleased the Government is acting on the advice of the World Health Organization that no person under the age of 18 years should be allowed to use a sunbed. Legislation prohibiting those aged under 18 years from using sunbeds is already in place in the United Kingdom and a number of other European countries.

It is a matter of concern that the sunbed industry in Ireland has been unregulated until now. This legislation will ensure greater safety for sunbed users and is, therefore, welcome. Important measures included in the Bill will control the sale of sunbeds over the Internet and require all sunbed operators to employ fully trained staff. Fines will be imposed on any premises that are found not to be in compliance with the new rules set out in the legislation. The Bill provides that the Health Service Executive will carry out site inspections. As Deputy O'Donovan stated, while it is fine to introduce regulation, the inspection regime will be crucial. Legislation is pointless unless adequate resources are provided to ensure the law is respected.

Everyone will have a family member or friend who has been affected by cancer. This is a silent killer and one of the leading causes of death. For this reason, any measure that reduces the number of people who die from cancer is welcome. Skin cancer has become the commonest cancer in Ireland and the increased use of sunbeds has without doubt contributed to the increasing number of skin cancer diagnoses. People who use sunbeds for personal and fashion reasons are placing themselves at risk.

One in ten women in Ireland will develop skin cancer and the incidence of the disease has been increasing each year. Ireland has the fourth highest skin cancer rate in Europe, with 148 people dying from the condition in 2012. This figure needs to be reduced in the same way as we reduced fatalities in road traffic accidents. People are unnecessarily putting their lives at risk and regulation is required to address the problem.

The dangers of sunbed use are being increasingly recognised. The World Health Organization reclassified sunbed use in 2009 and upgraded it from a group 2A carcinogen to a group 1 carcinogen. The amount of ultraviolet radiation to which a person is exposed on a sunbed can be up to 15 times higher than the midday sun in Spain. People are doing serious damage to their skin and bodies through exposure to deadly ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays on sunbeds. These rays damage skin cells and can eventually lead to skin cancer.

Statistics from the Irish Cancer Society show that people who use a sunbed only once increase their chance of contracting a melanoma by 15%. Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer and can prove fatal if not detected early. Cases of melanoma increased by 138% in Ireland between 1994 and 2010.

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