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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 Terence Flanagan: Information on Terence Flanagan Zoom on Terence Flanagan] People who use sunbeds before they reach 30 years of age increase their chances of getting melanoma by 75%. Two thirds of sunbed users have reported to the Irish Cancer Society that they first used a sunbed when under the age of 24. Alarmingly, 7% of those interviewed first used a sunbed under the age of 15. Those who use sunbeds on a monthly basis increase their risk of getting skin cancer by more than 50% With these statistics in mind, it is shocking that up until now people under the age of 18 have been allowed to use sunbeds frequently without any element of regulation. This cohort of people are not permitted to drive until they are 17 years of age or to vote until they are 18 years of age yet they are able to use sunbeds regularly, thus greatly increasing their risk of getting skin cancer. Younger sunbed users are not fully aware of the consequences of using a sunbed and of their increased risk of getting skin cancer. It is often too late for them when they become aware of this risk.

The Bill also imposes an obligation on sunbed operators to display warning signs in their premises, and on sunbeds, regarding the risks of sunbed usage. It is important this provision is included in the legislation to ensure users are fully aware of the risks of using sunbeds. While people are more aware these days of the consequences of exposure to ultraviolet rays, there is a need for greater public awareness of the dangers of exposure to the sun and the use of sunbeds, perhaps through schools, universities and national media campaigns. Research commissioned by the Irish Cancer Society in 2010 highlights that approximately 28,000 young people under the age of 25 use sunbeds each year. It is important that this age group is properly targeted with the full facts about the danger of sunbed usage. It is important that this happens at a younger age to prevent young people from using sunbeds in the first instance. The Minister might when responding indicate if he has any plans to launch a public health information campaign in this regard.

It is vitally important that premises that operate sunbeds are regularly checked to ensure that their staff are fully trained. If used incorrectly, sunbeds can cause substantial burns on the body. Last year, the media reported on a case involving a woman in her 30s, a first-time user of sunbeds, who as a result of not being given proper advice by the salon owner in regard to sunbed usage, had used the sunbed at an unsafe power setting for an unsafe length of time and had suffered first degree burns to the majority of her body, leaving her unable to walk or sleep comfortably and having to take time off work. She was awarded damages as a result of the owner's negligence.

I am aware of the concerns of the Irish Cancer Society that people with type 1 or type 2 skin, which are the two fairest skin types, should be banned outright from using sunbeds. I believe the Minister should consider inclusion of such a provision in the Bill. As people with fair skin are more likely to develop skin cancer, this may require further consideration in the future. An estimated 794 deaths each year in the EU are as a result of skin cancer through sunbed use. The European standard in respect of sunbed usage was amended in 2009. Worryingly, a 2013 study by the University of Dundee revealed that nine out of ten sunbeds in the UK do not meet these safety standards. It is important that the tanning equipment being used in Irish tanning salons is monitored to ensure it is of a safe standard.

Another important aspect of this Bill is that it will ban sunbed operators engaging in promotional marketing practices. Sunbeds are often marketed in an appealing way, usually using photographs of male and female models posing on sunny beaches, which is misleading from a consumer perspective in that it suggests that the user will look the same as the model following usage of the sunbed. Sunbed salons often provide buy one get one free offers and other deals to entice customers to sign up for a number of sessions. Prohibition of this type of promotional marketing would help to reduce the number of users, which I would welcome.

I welcome the significant fines that will be imposed on salons found to be in breach of the regulations. I am confident that they will act as a deterrent to sunbed operators allowing under age users to avail of their services. Fines of up to €4,000 or a period of six months imprisonment will be imposed in respect of committal of a first offence. Further offences may be subject to a fine of up to €5,000 or 12 months imprisonment. These penalties, coupled with site visits by the HSE, should help to sufficiently address the issue. If not, tougher action may need to be considered, including a ban on people with fair skin using sunbeds or an outright ban on the use of sunbeds in Ireland.

Enforcement of this legislation is crucial. We all know what happened when we fell down in terms of regulation in other areas, in particular in the banking sector. I ask that the Minister confirm that this issue will be taken seriously and that following enactment of this legislation the necessary inspections will take place.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt As some members did not turn up at the appointed time, I will be calling Deputies in the following order: Deputy Brian Walsh, Deputy Joe O'Reilly, Deputy Kevin Humphreys and Deputy James Bannon, all of whom have five minutes each, followed by Deputy Eamon Maloney.

Deputy Brian Walsh: Information on Brian Walsh Zoom on Brian Walsh I welcome the opportunity to contribute briefly to the debate on this Bill. I thank the Government Whip for sharing time to facilitate my participation in this debate. This is extremely important legislation. I have no doubt it will result in lives being saved. The Minister and his officials are to be commended on the introduction of this legislation. While like Deputy Terence Flanagan I had a difference of opinion with the Minister in relation to other significant legislation, there is no such difference of opinion between us in respect of this Bill. I commend the Minister on his work not alone in this area, but in tackling the tobacco industry. I also commend the Minister of State, Deputy White, on his work in tackling the drinks industry. The legislation that will ensue from that body of work is equally as important as the legislation being discussed today.

Unfortunately, cancer is all too common in Irish society today. It is a scourge that has claimed many lives and affected so many others. In many respects, we are powerless to hinder its march. If there is anything we can do to lessen its toll, it is incumbent upon us as legislators to do so. This Bill is a step in that direction. Most skin cancer is caused by UV radiation through sun exposure and sunbed use and is, therefore, preventable. People have a choice in regard to whether to use sunbeds.

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