INDOOR TANNING ASSOCIATION OF NEW ZEALANDThe Indoor Tanning Association (INTANZ), through media representative Matt Adams, complained that an article in Consumer about the New Zealand indoor tanning industry was inaccurate in regard to sunbed emissions and Vitamin D synthesis.
The complaint is not upheld.
A Consumer investigation into sunbed operators involved undercover research visits to 69 operators, of whom the Consumer found only seven complying fully with voluntary standards.
As a result Consumer called for an end to the current voluntary regime and for regulation and licensing of all operators. In 2010 December Consumer magazine reported that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (part of World Health Organisation) had reclassified sunbeds as a “group 1” carcinogen (same as cigarettes) and called on all governments to regulate sunbed use after findings that “even one sunbed session before age 35 increases melanoma risk by 75%”.
The article also detailed the outcome of the undercover operation measuring specific operators against industry guidelines. A further panel identified groups at high-risk of contracting skin cancer and, in a small sidebar, the report quoted Dr Marius Rademaker, Associate Professor of Dermatology at Waikato Hospital saying “Vitamin D is produced by a specific wavelength of light which most sunbeds don’t produce. Vitamin D is also rapidly degraded by sunlight so prolonged UV exposure may reduce your Vitamin D production – a fact that is often overlooked.”
In preparation for publication Consumer was in contact with Matt Adams representing INTANZ. This is an industry group with the following aims:
a fair portrayal of the tanning industry in the media;
providing assistance to sunbed operators to improve safety and quality of services;
giving the public a better all-round understanding of sunlight and sunbeds.
A draft of the article was made available and Mr Adams objected to Dr Rademaker’s comments specifically on the emissions spectrum of sunbeds. Consumer considered Mr Adam’s argument but concluded that the qualifications of Dr Rademaker supported the veracity and relevance of his statement.
A series of exchanges followed and Mr Adams supplied a New England Journal of Medicine report by Dr Michael Holick regarding sunbeds and the synthesising of Vitamin D. The magazine thanked Mr Adams for his input and stated that “we have made an editorial decision to make a slight change to the draft article.”
Following publication Mr Adams complained to Consumer. He stated that INTANZ strongly supported any initiative to promote improvement in the indoor tanning industry. However, he argued that despite the poor performance of some in the industry it was entitled to factual reporting. Firstly he objected to Dr Rademaker’s statement that most sunbeds do not emit the right wavelength of UV light to synthesise Vitamin D upon exposure to them. Secondly he objected to the statement that using a sunbed increased chance of skin cancer by 75%.
He argued that by not correcting Dr Rademaker’s statement – to be in line with the material Mr Adams had supplied – or at least presenting INTANZ opinion as an alternative and by using the WHO statistics on skin cancer risk from sunbeds, Consumer failed in its self-stated duty to disclose all essential facts and not suppress relevant available facts. Regarding the melanoma risk of sunbed use, he argued it was misleading to include people with Skin Type 1 who should never use a sunbed. If Skin Type 1 users were removed from the statistics, Mr Adams claimed there was no increase in the risk of melanoma.
He requested Consumer make a media statement to this end. When this did not eventuate, Mr Adams made a complaint to the Press Council. His complaint, however, is mainly related to the comments by Dr Rademaker that most sunbeds do not produce specific wavelengths of light that would stimulate Vitamin D in the skin.
Consumer stood by its use of the WHO statistic (that exposure to UV, either naturally or from artificial sources, is a known risk factor for skin cancer). Consumer disagreed that, with the exception of Skin Type 1, there is no increase in the risk of melanoma from using a sunbed. Furthermore, it emphasised the undercover survey’s finding that 24 of 69 operators did no formal skin assessment; therefore it was relevant to include all skin types in the risk assessment information.
On the topic of sunbed emissions and the resulting Vitamin D synthesis, Consumer advised that a study by NIWA (National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research) reported intensity of radiation at some wavelengths in New Zealand sunbeds was several times higher than that occurring in natural sunlight, therefore findings from overseas should not be generalised to the New Zealand situation.
Consumer noted, in relation to Dr Rademaker’s credentials as an authoritative commentator, his involvement in the development of the Australia/New Zealand Standard for Solaria for Cosmetic Purposes, his representative roles with the Cancer Society and NZ Dermatological Society and his responsibility for the phototherapy department at Waikato Hospital which gave him detailed knowledge of UV wavelengths and the stimulation of vitamin D production. Consumer also quoted the UK Consensus Vitamin D Position Statement (2010), developed by seven national health agencies, regarding the value of Vitamin D in human health.
The Complainant’s Response
Mr Adams reiterated his argument that, according to “the world’s leading Vitamin D3 researcher Dr Michael Holick” most tanning beds do emit UV B radiation and are a source of Vitamin D3 when used in moderation.
He also extended his complaint to further disagree with Dr Rademaker’s quoted statements regarding the sunlight degradation of Vitamin D which Mr Adams claimed to be highly misleading.
While he appreciated that topics of Vitamin D3 and UV exposure were complex and still under study he stood by his initial complaint that Dr Rademaker’s statements regarding the efficacy of sunbeds in stimulating the production of Vitmain D were wrong.
This is clearly a highly complex and evolving area of medical science in which debate takes place at the highest academic and medical levels. It would be inappropriate for the Press Council to “side” with one or another medical expert or academic researcher. And for that reason, it is not useful to go into detailed assessment of the various so-called experts Consumer and INTANZ furnished to support their argument.
Consumer has previously investigated the indoor tanning industry and reported on the “known” risks of sunbed use. As a result Consumer has taken a strong advocacy position calling for regulation. Consumer regards this industry as a risk to human health and has campaigned accordingly. In its public service role Consumer is permitted to take an advocacy role and in this case the press Council does not find it has breached its principles in doing so.
As part of this ongoing campaign, Consumer reported the World Health Organisation call for governments to regulate sunbed use, following sunbed reclassification as a group one carcinogen (same as cigarettes). At the same time Consumer conducted an undercover investigation to further illuminate the extent of the issue. This is important public information that deserved a wide airing. In order to expand on the research Consumer sought comment from Dr Marius Rademaker, whose qualification to comment INTANZ has called into question. Given Dr Rademaker’s associate professorship, his practical work with phototheraphy at Waikato Hospital and his involvement in writing Australasian standards for solaria, the Press Council believes Consumer were justified in seeking his opinion as that of an expert.
The INTANZ complaint is focussed solely on the question of the capacity of sunbeds to produce UV emissions which stimulate production of Vitamin D and on the claim that prolonged UV exposure can reduce Vitamin D levels. Mr Adams repeatedly reiterated INTANZ support for improvement to the safety of the industry.
However, Mr Adams argued that Consumer was blinded to giving a reasonable consideration of his arguments, or their further dissemination, because of the focus on the inadequacies of some indoor tanning operators. On this question, the Press Council would agree that Mr Adams’ information on sunbeds and the synthesis of Vitamin D could be argued to deserve an airing. Perhaps he could have been encouraged to write a letter for publication in a subsequent issue of the magazine.
On the basis of what has been presented, and the conflicting scientific material the Press Council is not qualified to judge the claims of Mr Adams and therefore the complaint can not be uphold.
Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Penny Harding, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, John Roughan, Lynn Scott and Stephen Stewart.