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Some college kids addicted to tanning

A woman prepares to use a tanning bed.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs ventured into tax policy today. He said President Obama's not planning to call for a value-added tax as a way to cut the deficit. That is, effectively, a nationwide sales tax. We do have a whole lot of excise taxes in this country, though. Taxes on the use of something, like cigarettes or alcohol.

And, as of July 1st, a tax on tanning salons. It's part of the health care law. And those three -- smokes, booze, and a tan -- may have another thing in common: A new study of college students reports that about a third of those who used tanning beds might actually be addicted, to tanning.

From the Marketplace Health Desk at WHYY, Kerry Grens has more.


Kerry Grens: Springtime is high season for tanning salons, when pasty patrons get ready for summer. Then there are the regulars who go year round -- summer or winter, tan and more tan.

CARI MELKONIAN: I have absolutely witnessed clients that are addicted to tanning.

Cari Melkonian owns Caramels Tanning in Saint Johnsbury, Vt.

MELKONIAN: They develop a problem where they're coming in multiple times a week, and they develop what I call to be a walking football.

But enough people think it's attractive that annual revenue for tanning beds grew five-fold in the past two decades. Tanning salons now bring in $5 billion per year. It's not just the look that brings in business.

Catherine Mosher, a researcher at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, surveyed several hundred college students.

CATHERINE MOSHER: There is growing evidence that a significant subgroup are addicted.

Mosher says one hallmark of addiction is continuing the habit while knowing the negative consequences. Studies have found a higher risk of melanoma among people who tan before age 35.

The U.S. already spends nearly $300 million treating all melanoma cases each year -- a little more than projected to come in from the tax.

Dan Humiston is the president of the Indoor Tanning Association.

DAN HUMISTON: People have addictive personalities, and they're susceptible to addictions. Is this like a narcotic or cigarettes or something? That is absurd.

Perhaps the test of how addictive tanning is will be whether a $1 or $2 tax per session will keep anyone from going.

In Philadelphia, I'm Kerry Grens, for Marketplace.

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