Salons feel burned by health-care bill's tanning taxPeople in the indoor tanning industry object to the way a tax got slipped into the Senate version of the health-care bill, which means a ten percent tax will start July 1.
By: Jackie Crosby, Minneapolis Star Tribune
Inside the tanning booth, freshman architecture student Garret Sletten was putting a little color in his cheeks before a formal fraternity party later this month.
Sletten, 20, was unaware that come July 1, those seven- to nine-minute bronzing zaps of ultraviolet rays are going to cost more. A little-known piece of the health-care bill calls for a new 10 percent tax on tanning businesses, effective on that date.
Sletten said a price bump won’t stop him from his occasional sessions at Darque Tan, near the University of Minnesota campus. “I only do it for special occasions; 10 percent isn’t that big of a difference,” he said.
Tanning salon owners, meanwhile are feeling burned.
“Our business will go down,” said Don Nelson, who owns nine Totally Tan salons in the northern metro. “Some people just don’t want to pay extra.”
Nelson and others in the indoor tanning industry object to the way the tax got slipped into the Senate version of the bill. In 11th-hour negotiations, it replaced a proposed 5 percent tax on Botox and other elective cosmetic procedures (dubbed the “bo-tax”), after forceful lobbying from plastic surgeons and Botox-maker Allergan Inc.
“The tax is a microcosm of what went wrong with the entire process of this health-care bill,” said Joseph Levy of the 3,000-member International Smart Tan Network. “They took out a tax on wealthy doctors and patients and put in a tax on middle-class business owners — most of whom are women — and our middle-class customers. It’s repulsive legislation.”
With salons already hobbled by the recession, Levy said the tax could shutter up to 1,000 businesses and put about 9,000 jobs at risk.
But the Food and Drug Administration, dermatologists and others concerned about the growing incidence of skin cancer are unmoved.
More than 3.5 million new cases of skin cancer are discovered each year in this country. In Minnesota, the rate of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, rose 6.1 percent between 2002 and 2006.
In July, the World Health Organization put tanning beds in the same cancer-causing category as arsenic and cigarettes.
“I don’t want anybody put out of work — except when it comes to supplying a carcinogen to children,” said Dr. Cindy Firkins Smith, a dermatologist with Affiliated Community Medical Centers in Willmar, Minn., and an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota. “That’s exactly what’s happening with tanning booths.”
Studies show that teens and young adults who use tanning booths increase their risk of melanoma by 75 percent. Among young women, the melanoma rate nearly tripled between 1973 and 2004, according to a National Cancer Institute study.
The tax applies to tanning beds, stand-up booths and sun lamps, but not creams and spray tanning services. It is expected to raise $2.7 billion in the next decade.
The New York-based Skin Cancer Foundation compares it to a cigarette tax — a way to pay health costs associated with risky behavior, and a financial incentive to stop doing it.
Despite industry fears, keeping people out of sun beds could be a tall order. About 30 million Americans pay to get an indoor tan each year, at a cost of $8 to $20 a session.
Marina Koll, a 39-year-old nurse who lives in Ramsey, Minn.,visits a tanning booth once every week or two, year-round.
“It’s one of those bad habits,” she said after a recent visit to Totally Tan. “You wish the price would go down and not up. But I want to look tan, regardless, so it probably won’t make that much of a difference.”
There are more than 18,000 locations where tanning is the primary business, according to the International Smart Tan Network. Another 7,000 sun beds are in use at gyms, nail salons and other businesses.
Annual revenue for the industry is about $1.7 billion.
John Overstreet, executive director and lobbyist for the Indoor Tanning Association, said the industry will fight to get the tax removed, though it’s an uphill battle. His group organized a congressional write-in campaign of 225,000 e-mails.
“I don’t know of any other industry that was singled out like we were,” Overstreet said. “I don’t think it’s fair.”