A ban on children under 18 using sunbeds will move a step closer today after the Government agreed to back a private member's Bill that would force tanning salons to cater only for adults.
Andy Burnham, the Health Secretary, will tell a meeting of MPs that ministers have accepted the scientific arguments for preventing children from gaining access to "leccie [electric] beaches" - the slang phrase for tanning salons in Liverpool, where the fashion for them among teenagers is the greatest.
But the charity Cancer Research UK warned that the battle to protect children from skin cancer was far from won, and there was a high risk that the Bill would run out of time or fail to gain sufficient support from MPs.
Six per cent of 11- to 17-year-olds in England admit to having used sunbeds, research shows, but the practice is much more popular in the gloomy North, where average usage by that age group is 11 per cent, than in the Midlands and the sunnier South (4.2 per cent).
A study carried out in six cities found that 20 per cent of children in Liverpool had used sunbeds. In Sunderland the figure was 18 per cent.
Cancer Research UK suggested that more than 250,000 children were risking their health in search of a tan, and were driven mainly by peer pressure.
A person using a sunbed for the first time before the age of 35 increases their chances of developing skin cancer by 75 per cent over the course of their lifetime, the charity said. Many solariums voluntarily exclude users who are, or appear to be, under 18 but some do not.
Gemma Merna, who plays Carmel Valentine in the Channel 4 soap opera Hollyoaks, is supporting the Bill.
She said: "I started to use sunbeds once or twice a week with my friends when I was 15 but I never realised the risks I was putting my skin through just to get the perfect tan. When I was younger I just wanted to fit in with everyone. I now realise the damage sunbeds can do."
Mr Burnham added: "The scientific evidence is clear: sunbeds increase your risk of getting skin cancer. It is far too easy for young people to use sunbeds and I am determined to take action to protect them. I fully support this Bill, which will force tanning salons to ban access for people under 18 years old."
The Bill introduced by Julie Morgan, the Labour MP for Cardiff North, will have its second reading on 29 January. It needs the support of a minimum of 100 MPs on the day, but is second in the queue for private member's Bills and thus risks being talked out of time.
Sarah Woolnough, the head of policy at Cancer Research UK, said: "We are pleased the Government is supporting the Bill but until we see the final draft it is difficult to know what they are supporting.
"Their press release doesn't say salons must be staffed, which is the only way you can ensure that access by under-18s is prevented.
"We know coin-operated sunbeds and unstaffed salons offering cheap deals make using sunbeds extremely appealing to young people."
Malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, causes more than 2,000 deaths a year in Britain. One in 10 cases are in people under 35.