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LONDON (Reuters) - The British government backed a call on Wednesday for under-18s to be banned from using sunbeds in tanning salons because they increase skin cancer risk.
"The scientific evidence is clear -- sunbeds increase your risk of getting skin cancer," Health Minister Andy Burnham said in a statement. "It is far too easy for young people to use sunbeds and I am determined to take action to protect them."
A proposed law on the ban is to be debated in parliament at the end of this month.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) moved ultra-violet emitting tanning beds to its highest cancer risk category last July and labeled them as "carcinogenic to humans" after research found they could increase the risk of developing cancer by 75 percent.
The IARC said sunbeds were particularly dangerous if used by children and young adults.
Campaigners say melanoma is the most common cancer in young Britons aged 15-34 and kills more than 2,000 people a year.
Around 160,000 new cases are diagnosed worldwide each year and while melanoma is preventable, or treatable if caught early, in patients whose disease has spread it is rarely cured and often kills them within a year.
Some countries and U.S. states regulate the multi-billion-dollar tanning industry, with some banning teenagers from using sunbeds or requiring consent from their parents or doctor.
In Australia, children are banned from using solariums and the industry is required to post warnings in salons about potential health problems, including skin cancer.
A British government-commissioned report by Cancer Research UK published late last year found six percent of children in Britain aged between 11 and 17 had used a sunbed.
If the British law is passed, it would prevent tanning salons from allowing under 18s to use their sunbeds.
The charity RAFT, which campaigns for work to prevent and develop a cure for skin cancer, said it was encouraged by the proposal but feared it would not be enough.
"Sadly we know that banning under-18s won't necessarily stop young people trying to use sunbeds," its chief executive Leonor Stjepic said in a statement, adding a ban on coin-operated tanning kiosks would also be needed, among other measures.
"This legislation is a start but legislation alone is not enough," Stjepic said. "We need to get the message across to young people that using a sunbed is not cool."
Editing by Janet Lawrence