By MEGAN DURISIN
Capital News Service
LANSING – Tanning salons are starting to feel the burn over a 10 percent tax on indoor tanning services planned to go into effect on July 1, an initiative intended to help fund the new federal health care law.
The tanning industry predicts the tax will scorch its business.
“You can’t raise prices by 10 percent and not expect it to hurt businesses,” said John Overstreet, executive director of the Indoor Tanning Association in Washington, D.C.
“In places like Beverly Hills, it’ll probably be less affected, but in Michigan where they’re already dealing with a recession, the impact will be greater.”
The association’s members include manufacturers and suppliers of tanning bed equipment, as well as salons.
However, medical groups are welcoming the tax as a tool to reduce skin cancer associated with tanning.
Overstreet said he expects some salons won’t raise prices and will absorb the federal tax themselves to keep their doors open.
“Tanning salons are very small businesses, typically run by women,” Overstreet said. “The industry depends on disposable income.”
The tax replaces a 5 percent tax on cosmetic surgery procedures that was originally in the bill but was strongly opposed by dermatologists, Overstreet said.
It is expected to bring in $2.7 billion over 10 years.
Sandra Chamberlain, owner of Tanfaster South in Lansing, said that it’s “punitive” to impose the tax on a small business like hers.
“It’s being assessed on a very small percent of the retail sector,” Chamberlain said. “If this tax is allowed to go through, I expect other industries will experience the same thing in coming years.”
Chamberlain said her salon has been family-owned and operated for 25 years. It employs high school and college students, as well as women returning to the workforce.
“A lot of people have no time to lay outside for hours on end,” Chamberlain said. “Working people come in for moderate controlled sun exposure once or twice a week so when they do have a chance to go outside, they can enjoy the lake or the boat without pale skin that is easily overexposed.”
However, the Michigan Dermatological Society and Michigan State Medical Society support the tax, saying they strongly oppose indoor tanning salons.
“We’re totally behind the 10 percent tax,” said Kay Watnick, a dermatologist in West Bloomfield and secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Dermatological Society. “We’d be in support of closing them. Any deterrent is helpful.”
Watnick said the World Health Organization recently labeled UV rays from tanning beds as a carcinogen, putting them in the same category as tobacco. Indoor radiation promotes melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer and the most common cancer in women ages 20 to 30, she said.
“The bulbs can be up to 15 times stronger than being outside,” Watnick said. “The amount of UV rays you’re getting is huge.”
While some clients say they use salons for greater Vitamin D exposure, Watnick said she encourages her patients to “have an active life, be outside and throw on some sunscreen.” Vitamin D supplements are easily available and inexpensive, she said.
“I’m not a big fan of taxing, but this is possibly a deterrent to indoor tanning and it may save some lives,” Watnick said. “More people are dying from melanoma and we know it’s connected to tanning beds.”
Overstreet, at the tanning association, said tanning doesn’t pose such risks if practiced in moderation.
“If you do it properly, there is no more danger than tanning outside,” Overstreet said.
He estimated there are about 20,000 tanning salons in the country, as well as about 10,000 health salons and day spas with tanning services.
“There’s a lot of confusion out there among our members,” Overstreet said. “It’s going to be a challenge because it’s not a typical tax for the IRS.”
The association is working to repeal the tax and has started a grassroots campaign on its website that generated about a quarter of a million e-mails to Congress.
Chamberlain said she hopes the tax doesn’t go into effect.
“Lots of clients are upset because the Michigan economy is not the best,” Chamberlain said. “People come in for controlled sun exposure and it brightens up their day.”