unpluggedWith May being Skin Cancer Awareness Month and in tandem with yesterday’s event co-hosted with the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program, The Hazards and Allure of Indoor Tanning Beds on College Campuses we are running a series on skin cancer. Be sure to check back daily for posts on skin cancer including how you prevent and detect it. Enjoy!

Eight years ago, my daughter Jaime died from melanoma, which the doctors believed was from her use of tanning beds in high school and college. She was diagnosed when she was 20 and fought the evil beast of a disease until her death at 29.

My Jaime’s story gave me the passion and conviction to become “the indoor tanning industry’s worst nightmare.” The day after Jaime’s funeral I began going after the indoor tanning industry and their lies and deception. I drew their wrath by commenting on magazine and newspaper articles on the internet about the dangers of tanning beds (see http://www.vice.com/read/i-was-paid-to-go-undercover-for-the-tanning-industry-122). Social media was in its infancy; Facebook and Twitter had not yet been born.

I also contacted my state legislators about writing a bill to ban teens from using tanning beds but I was ignored, and it would take several years before the Texas legislature would have such a bill introduced and passed … but it did. Two of them in fact. The first one was weak, but the one that followed was a full under 18 ban, and I testified with Jaime’s story for both of these laws.

As Facebook grew and melanoma patients found each other, many groups were formed. There were groups for skin cancer or melanoma in general, groups for survivors, groups for support, groups for mothers of melanoma patients, groups for care-givers, groups for individual melanoma journeys, groups for fundraising, groups for ocular melanoma, groups for pediatric melanoma, groups for research, groups for grief & remembrance, groups for advocacy, groups for sun safety … but I recognized there was a void. There was no group or page devoted entirely to the dangers of tanning beds. So Pull the Plug on Tanning Beds was created.

It has been up and running for about 5 months, and now has almost 1,900 members. January was designated Tanning Bed Dangers Awareness Month since it is the beginning of the peak tanning bed use time for teens wanting that “glow” for Prom and Spring Break. The page has provided photos and information regarding tanning bed risks that have been shared across Facebook and Twitter.

There have also been numerous activities that the members could participate in, and many have done so. These include contacting fitness centers to ask about whether they provide tanning beds at their center and attempting to educate them to the contradiction between promoting a healthy lifestyle and offering cancer in the form of tanning. We have also tried to educate the customers of tanning salons through the salons’ Facebook pages and to identify any false advertising and notify the FTC. Another project is to make Facebook aware that tanning salons with Facebook pages are advertising “self-harm,” which is something that Facebook has a policy against. And our members are kept up to date on the latest legislation in all states.

Our largest project has been writing letters/emails/Facebook messages and posts/tweets to over 200 colleges and universities in the US, asking whether they have tanning beds on campus or in off-campus housing and whether tanning salons are merchants in their college cash card programs. AIM at Melanoma was kind enough to draft up a letter for our use. We have received over 40 replies, with most stating their tan-free campus policy. Some, like Michigan State, are reviewing their criteria for selecting merchants for the student cash card program or for their discount program. Our message is being heard; colleges now know that concerned people are watching them. They cannot continue to promote, or even be perceived to promote, risky behavior in their students by making tanning beds more easily accessible.

Every day new projects that pertain to tanning beds come to our attention, and there is something in our group for everyone who wants to Pull the Plug on Tanning Beds. I hope to see you there!

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