July 29, 2009 / 3:22 AM / in 8 years

Sunbeds join cigarettes, arsenic as top cancer threat

<p>A man lies on a tanning bed as he begins a session at a tanning salon in Shanghai August 1, 2006.Nir Elias</p>

SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - Tanning beds have been ranked alongside cigarettes, arsenic and asbestos as posing the greatest threat of cancer to humans by an international cancer research group.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has moved ultra-violet emitting tanning beds to its highest cancer risk category and labeled them as "carcinogenic to humans" after ruling they are more dangerous than previously suggested.

The France-based agency, which is part of the World Health Organization, had previously classified sunlamps and tanning beds as "probably" carcinogenic to humans.

The research, published in the latest edition of The Lancet Oncology medical journal, found using tanning beds could increase the risk of developing cancer by 75 percent, particularly if used by children and young adults.

"The risk of skin melanoma is increased by 75 percent when use of tanning devices starts before 30 years of age," said the report.

The IARC report came after scientists from nine countries met in June to reassess the risks of cancer from different types of radiation, with solar radiation the main source of human exposure to ultraviolet radiation.

The IARC has since 1971 published a series of "Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans," also known as WHO's encyclopedia of carcinogens, ranking the risk agents in groups from one to four.

Group 1, the new ranking for tanning beds, also includes asbestos, arsenic and tobacco products.

The WHO has stated that is does not recommend the use of UV tanning devices for cosmetic purposes with sunbeds now being made to produce higher levels of UVB to mimic the sun and speed up the tanning process.

Some countries and U.S. states regulate the multi-billion dollar 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 it is a requirement for the tanning industry to post warnings of health problems, including skin cancer, that is associated with artificial tanning in salons.

This regulation was enforced by a court ruling following the death of Clare Oliver who died in September 2007 at the age of 26 after losing her battle with cancer that she said was caused by her visits to tanning salons.

Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Sugita Katyal

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