Courtney Jusino wasn’t diagnosed with cancer until she was 28, 12 years after she first started working at a tanning salon in high school and would go into a tanning booth three or four times a week.
She blames those frequent trips to the tanning booth for her skin cancer and the reason why she is now testifying on behalf of a House bill to ban the use of tanning salons for people under the age of 18.
Jusino first started using tanning salons at 14 years old and would do so before family vacations, because she thought that if she got a “base tan” then she wouldn’t burn when she went away. Instead, she said, she’d burn from the booth then again while on vacation without realizing it.
Then a student at Cranston East, she started working at Exotic Tans at 16 years old.
While working there, she said she kind of had “free reign” to use the tanning booths whenever she wanted without any enforced rules in place at the salon. Rhode Island law requires parents to sign off on any trip that a minor takes to a tanning salon, but Jusino says that this law wasn’t followed then and it isn’t followed now.
She said that recently she went to a few tanning salons around the state and told them that she had a 15 year-old daughter who was interested in tanning for her prom. All of these salons, she said, told her that all she needed to do was send in her daughter with a note. One salon said that they have a sign-in sheet for parents to sign off on, but when they let her look at the book there was only one signature in it.
The policies need to change, she said, because of the linkage between tanning booths and skin cancer that she has experienced first-hand.
“There is so much evidence that shows linkage between skin cancer and tanning booths,” she said. “Minors aren’t allowed to smoke or drink, they shouldn’t be allowed in tanning booths either.”
Jusino, now a 32-year-old nurse practitioner preparing to graduate from University of Rhode Island’s Nursing Program this spring, continued to go to tanning booths even after high school in order to keep up a base tan.
She said that she didn’t have too much sun exposure because she didn’t really like the outdoors that much, didn’t go to the beach, and only would go out in the sun on family vacations. She continued going to tanning booths until 2013, when she was diagnosed with Basal Cells Carcinoma, a type of skin cancer caused by caused by ultraviolet light exposure.
She said the cancer had to have been caused by the tanning salon visits because she had precancerous symptoms in skin areas that were only exposed to UV light during those trips to the tanning booth and were normally covered by clothes.
She had to have MOHS surgery done to remove the cancerous cells, during which she had to have a hole drilled in her face and have what she called plastic surgery done to remove the cells.
She was luckier than some in the type of skin cancer she got, because she said that one of her friends from high school, who now lives in Vermont, had a battle with the more common skin cancer Melanoma, a cancer that can spread throughout the body. Basal Cells Carcinoma, Jusino said, can be destructive in one area but generally doesn’t spread.
Because of her battle and the problems Jusino sees with how tanning salons are run throughout the state, she supports a bill sponsored by Representative Mia Ackerman, House Majority Leader Joe Shekarchi, Representative Joseph McNamara, Representative Camille Vella-Wilkinson, and Representative Patricia Serpa. A Senate version of the bill is being sponsored by Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin.
The House bill is expected to be heard in the next week or two, according Amber Herting, spokeswomen for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACSCAN) of Rhode Island. ASCAN has thrown their support behind Jusino and this bill.
Robert Dulski, ASCAN’s government relations director, said that skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States and the incidence rate of melanoma in Rhode Island has increased 44 percent in the last three years. Among people aged 15-29 years, he continued, melanoma is the fourth most commonly diagnosed cancer. Also, more than $8 billion is spent on skin cancer each year nationally.
He also said that in 2015 one in nine high school girls reported using an indoor tanning device in the past 12 months, which increased in senior students to one in six.
“Misinformation and deceptive practices from the indoor tanning industry and salons are partly to blame for such high tanning rates among high school girls,” he said.
Dulski also said that because of increased “awareness and action” from all levels of government, including in 2014 when the Surgeon General called for an increased effort to reduce exposure to UV radiation, shows that Rhode Island should follow suit and push forward this bill.
“Because the science demonstrates that tanning devices cause cancer and that age restrictions can be effective at reducing teen tanning rates, ACSCAN strongly supports H 7136 to prohibit minors from using indoor tanning devices, without any exceptions,” Dulski said.
“If we can speak to the right people, I can’t see why they wouldn’t agree with what they’re saying,” Jesino added.