West Virginia lawmakers are looking to protect children from unhealthy decisions and to give parents more say in their children’s body art choices.
Bills moving through the Legislature would set the minimum age minors can receive their first tattoo and would ban indoor tanning for all children.
The Senate voted unanimously Wednesday to prohibit children under age 16 from receiving a tattoo. A parent or legal guardian would be required to give their written consent at the studio and provide photo identification before teens at 16 and 17 could receive a tattoo.
Huntington tattoo shop owner Billy Beans said the proposed law change would match what is standard procedure at his business and wouldn’t hurt him financially. Beans requires teens ages 16 to 17 to bring an adult who must present state-issued identification that matches the name and address of the teen. And he has turned away teens who looked too young or who wanted tattoos that were inappropriate for their age.
“I think it’s a great idea. Some studios wouldn’t agree,” said Beans, who owns Tat-Nice Tattoos. “A lot of kids are too young, too immature. They should wait.”
For Sen. Doug Facemire, D-Braxton, the bill gives parents the ability to make decisions in their child’s best interest, he said.
“Tattoos are there forever,” he said. “Making the parents give the consent does not hurt anybody. Taking the parents’ consent out of it can cause problems.”
Another bill moving through the Senate would prohibit anyone under age 18 from using an indoor tanning bed. The American Cancer Society supports the bill because teens and young adults are at a 75 percent higher risk of developing melanoma, a type of skin cancer, from just one indoor tanning session a month than teens who don’t use tanning beds.
The potentially deadly cancer is the second most common type of cancer for young adults ages 15 to 29, said Juliana Frederick, West Virginia grass roots manager for the American Cancer Society.
The cancer society pushed for a parental consent law last year in West Virginia but is pushing for full ban instead this year. States that passed parental consent laws have not seen a drop in teen tanning, Frederick said.
Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, is a doctor who has treated melanoma patients in the past. He said the number of diagnosed cases of the deadly cancer is on the rise nationally and in West Virginia, especially among young people.
“There is a general belief that exposure in tanning beds are part of the problem. It’s a public health issue,” Foster said.
But the Indoor Tanning Association called the effort an overreach of government and questioned the science behind the cancer society’s claims.
“We’re opposed to any kind of ban like that. There’s absolutely no basis in science for that kind of action by the government,” said John Overstreet, the association’s executive director. “Our association strongly supports parental consent.”
Youth tanners make up about 5 percent of tanning salons’ clients. But that can vary if the salon is located in a small town or college town, Overstreet said.
Such a ban would also hurt salons, many of which are small “mom and pop” shops that are already hurting from the weak economy, he said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to discuss the bill next week.