New “tanning tax” has salon owners seeing red

A 10 percent tax pays for healthcare, hurts businesses
By: Josh Fernandez The Press Tribune
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When July 1 rolls around, it’s going to be a little more expensive for indoor tanners to achieve that special shade of beige. A 10 percent tax on indoor tanning, which goes into effect next month, is a part of President Obama’s plan to offset the cost of his health care overhaul. While government analysts estimate the tax will generate $2.7 billion over the next 10 years, the tanning community – yes, there is a tanning community – isn’t pleased. Rob McClung, owner of Sun Source Tanning in Rocklin, thinks the tax isn’t quite fair. “It’s just an easy thing to slide in on the health care bill,” he says. “It was put in last minute … and it’s something they could do pretty easily.” The Indoor Tanning Association (which represents thousands of indoor tanning manufacturers, distributors, facility owners and members from other supporting industries) provides dozens of links on their website that speak out against the tax while singing the praises of indoor tanning. Some links even direct readers to stories that claim ultraviolet exposure can save lives, while some maintain that sunbathing will boost the male libido. However, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, affiliated with the World Health Organization, recently moved tanning beds to its highest cancer risk category, labeling them “carcinogenic to humans,” a hefty tag dismissed as rhetoric by the Tanning Association. The Tanning Association claims studies that link tanning beds to melanoma are based mostly on “ignorance and misinformation.” “We believe that the risks of UV light have been overstated and the benefits ignored,” the Tanning Association says on its website’s frequently asked question section. They urge citizens to contact lawmakers to have what they call an “unfair” tanning tax reversed. While tanning beds are championed by the tanning market (a multi-billion dollar industry) for their health benefits (mostly Vitamin D production), they are frowned upon by the Agency for Research on Cancer for their link to melanoma. Tanning beds, says the cancer agency, are just as dangerous as cigarettes, which are also taxed heavily. That’s only partially accurate, said Sun Source Tanning owner McClung. “Of course, UV exposure is going to create melanin, so that’s going to be able to be linked (to melanoma). But the main thing is if you don’t burn, your risks are pretty minimal,” he said. “Most of the time people burn at the lake or by the pool. In general, people don’t really burn in tanning beds.” McClung also pointed out that tanning beds are used in skin therapy. And he’s right – skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema are treated by dermatologists in a process called phototherapy. Doctors, however, are exempt from this tax. “So there are some things that are OK for you and some things that you want to watch your exposure on,” McClung said. “If you overdo almost anything, it’s not good for you.” And, in turn, the tanning tax is not good for owners of tanning salons. To retain their client base, some salons will simply cut their prices by 10 percent. But that’s not quite feasible for McClung because Sun Source isn’t a chain (like Roseville’s Planet Beach), so being a small business owner makes it harder for McClung to absorb the tax. “I really can’t afford to eat it all,” he said. “We’ll make it so you don’t have to do the tax if you’re a member.” McClung’s tanning packages vary in price depending on the strength of the UV rays, but the average tanning session runs about five or six dollars. “Somebody might get an upgrade where you get 10 (tans) for $70 and it’s going to cost (with the tax) $77,” he said. “That way, it starts adding up.” But there’s always a little ray of sunshine. For 27-year-old indoor tanner Jen Aller, who achieved an impressive, movie star shade of bronze, the 10 percent tax is steep, but not a huge deal. “That’s a lot,” said the Irvine, Calif. native Thursday, outside of California Sun salon in Roseville. “But I don’t actually tan much – mostly in the fall and winter – so it probably won’t even matter. I’ll still go.” Josh Fernandez can be reached at