TEENAGERS as young as 15 are using sunbeds in Tauranga, prompting leading Bay skin doctor Paul Salmon to issue fresh warnings on the dangers of solarium use.
The warning comes on the back of calls by Green MP Sue Kedgley for the Government to regulate solarium use in New Zealand and legally ban anyone under the age of 18 from using sunbeds.
This week Health Minister Pete Hodgson came out in support of the Green Party's stance on the issue. He said he would be seeking advice on the issue of sunbed safety and regulation.
Four Tauranga businesses spoken to by the Bay of Plenty Times - Urban Tan, Bay BodyFit, FitCo and Aura Sunspa - allow teenagers under 18 to use sunbeds, as long as they have parental consent.
The owner of Urban Tan said she had received permission from two parents to allow their 15-year-old daughters to use sunbeds. FitCo in Tauranga also reported teenagers as young as 16-years-old using their sunbed.
Those who use sunbeds say they help boost their self-esteem but Dr Salmon said there was almost no reason why anyone, let alone teenagers, should be using them.
The younger a person was, the more susceptible their skin was to UV damage that could have lethal consequences later in life.
``Why anyone would want to lay under a sunbed is the most crazy thing you could imagine. It is not safe and can be deadly,' he said. ``I don't understand it.'
Dr Salmon said sunbeds use predominantly UVA - a type of ultraviolet light which has been shown to cause skin cancer - to make people's skin go brown.
He said it had been well documented through a number of studies that sunbeds were not safe and he agreed with statistics from the World Health Organisation that say sunbeds increase the risk of skin cancer by 75 per cent and that the UV exposure experienced on a sunbed can be up to five times stronger than the midday sun.
Dr Salmon pointed out that the Bay of Plenty region already had a high rate of melanoma from natural sunlight and one of the highest numbers of melanoma cases diagnosed over the past decade in New Zealand.
``We all get far too much sunshine in the Bay of Plenty anyway, so why would you want any more from a sunbed?" he said.
"Why are me and my colleagues so busy at our practice? We have four specialists and we are all flat out."
Tracey Jones, owner of Urban Tan, said she believed part of the reason parents allowed their children to use sunbeds was so they could moderate their UV exposure.
"They (children) will just go out lie on the beach all day and sizzle. This way parents let them feel good about themselves as far as peer pressure without damaging themselves," she said.
She said the main reason people used sunbeds was to raise their levels of self-esteem.
Bodyzone gym in Tauranga offers members the use of a sunbed but told the Bay of Plenty Times it does not allow anyone under the age of 18 use its tanning equipment.
Jenny Shuttleworth, who monitors the use of the sunbed at Bodyzone, said the gym followed the Cancer Society's guidelines.
"We go through all the risks with the client and they have to sign a document saying they understand the risks," she said.
"If we get a new client using the sunbed they are monitored and are only allowed to be on it for a certain amount of time."
Ms Shuttleworth, who uses the sunbed herself, said Bodyzone also offered spray tanning and encouraged clients to use it as the safest method of getting a tan.
However, she said tanning using a sunbed was about personal choice.
"Yes there is a risk but you could die tomorrow being hit by a bus. We are put at risk every day," she said.