The use of solarium sunbeds in the EU has raised scientific concerns in Brussels, which is in the process of identifying its potential health risks.
An increasing number of EU citizens, mainly young people, use sunbeds for aesthetic reasons or to boost Vitamin D.
Medical associations claim that sunbeds can cause skin cancer and have urged the European Commission to take immediate action to regulate their use. The tanning industry, meanwhile, has called on the EU executive to adopt a “less biased” approach.
Early this year, the European Commission announced that the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) had published a preliminary opinion on the biological effects of ultraviolet radiation caused by sunbeds for which it opened a public consultation asking all interested stakeholders to submit comments.
SCENIHR falls under the responsibility of the Commission’s directorate-general for health and food safety (DG Sante). But the regulation of sunbeds comes under two directives, which fall under the watch of the Commission’s justice directorate (DG Justice) – more specifically its Product and Service Safety unit – the Low Voltage Devices Directive (LVD) and the General Product Safety Directive (GPSD).
The first directive regulates any kind of electrical equipment within certain voltage limits while the second one basically provides that any product that is in the market needs to be safe for the consumers.
The preliminary opinion concluded that there was strong evidence that sunbed exposure causes melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma and, to a lesser extent, basal cell carcinoma, more especially when first exposure takes place at younger ages.
“There is moderate evidence that sunbed exposure may also cause ocular melanoma. Sunbed use is responsible for a noticeable proportion of both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers and for a large fraction of melanomas arising before the age of 30”, the document reads.
In their report, the experts also stressed that there was no need to use sunbeds to induce Vitamin D, and that there is no safe limit for UV irradiance from sunbeds.
An EU source told EURACTIV.com that the opinion prepared by the SCENIHR is a risk assessment which will enable risk managers in the Commission to take necessary actions to guarantee consumer protection. The same source emphasised that the opinion would serve as a scientific basis for future regulation or setting standards in the area of concern contributing to more evidence-based EU policy-making.
20,000 deaths every year
EURACTIV contacted medical associations and asked for comments on the issue.
In a joint response, Professor Véronique del Marmol and Dr Mariano Suppa noted that, in 2009, the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), included UV-emitting tanning devices as class 1 carcinogens to humans for cutaneous and ocular melanoma.
“Furthermore, the European Code Against Cancer clearly mentions ‘Do not use sunbeds’,” they said.
Marmol is head of the dermatology department at Hopital Erasme-Université Libre de Bruxelles, board member of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology (EADV) and Chair of Euromelanoma Europe. Suppa hails from the dermatology department at Hopital Erasme in Brussels.
The scientists remarked that more and more young people were using sunbeds on a regular basis, mostly females under the age of 35.
“There should be no doubt that sunbed use increases the risks of skin cancer. From our side, we welcome the preliminary results of the SCENIHR opinion, which we in fact fully support, and we are now waiting for the final opinion to be published.”
The researchers added that in Europe, melanoma causes approximately 20,000 deaths every year.
“Prevalence of use of sunbeds is considerable in many European countries and people who have used sunbeds at least once before the age of 35 are reported to be 75% more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never used them. It has been suggested that sunbed use may be then responsible for over 3,000 melanoma cases per year in Europe,” the scientists concluded.
Industry: a one-sided report
However, industry associations believe the SCENIHR opinion is biased.
Frank Harbusch, Secretary General of the European Sunlight Association, said that SCENIHR’s approach was problematic.
He told EURACTIV that his industry had provided approximately 100 comments for the preliminary opinion of SCENIHR and blamed the researchers for being biased.
Referring to a public hearing on this matter, held in Luxembourg on 12 April, he noted that there had been a strong presence of industry representatives and independent scientists, who were “shocked about the one-sidedness of the report”.
“The two chosen external experts – Mr Greinert and Mr Doré – who did most of the research for the Working Group, are both very well known for their anti-UV position. Also, they mainly look at this topic from a dermatologists’ point of view, which means a pure focus on skin damage,” Harbusch stressed.
He added that when it comes to risk and benefits of UV radiation, one rather had to look at the bigger picture, which only can be done by photo biologists.
“We have therefore made it very clear to the Commission and SCENIHR that we would expect them to completely rework the opinion,” he pointed out.
Legislation changes if needed
Contacted by EURACTIV, a European Commission official stressed that a final opinion was expected to be adopted by SCENIHR in autumn this year.
“For the time being the Working Group is working on addressing the comments received during the public consultation which was open until 27 April 2016,” the EU official said, adding that scientific committees of the European Commission provide scientific advice for policymakers based on thorough review and evaluation of relevant scientific data so as “to derive conclusions and assess potential risks”.
Another EU source told EURACTIV that once SCENIHR issues its final opinion on sunbeds, the relevant LVD Committee (composed of the member states) and Working Group (composed of the member states and other stakeholders such as industry, standardisation bodies or consumers associations), will discuss the need to adapt the current harmonised standard on sunbeds that currently gives presumption of conformity with the safety objectives of the Low Voltage Directive.