Exposing the secret lives of tanning teens in Ontario: Ipsos Reid poll results have Canadian Cancer Society renewing call for ban on indoor tanning for youth under 18

26 April 2012


A rare snapshot of teen behaviour was released today by the Canadian Cancer Society. The poll sheds light on why Ontario teens tan, how often, and the reasons they start using indoor tanning equipment.

Indoor tanning causes skin cancer. In 2009, the world’s foremost authority in identifying the causes of cancer, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, classified ultraviolet radiation devices, including tanning beds, as known carcinogens. The Society has taken up the issue of youth tanning, because tanning bed use before the age of 35 increases a person’s risk of developing skin cancer by 75%. Melanoma skin cancer is also one of the most common and deadliest forms of cancer amongst people ages 15 to 29, and is one of the most preventable.

“The Canadian Cancer Society has been advocating on this important issue for more than six years,” says Joanne Di Nardo, the Society’s Public Issues Senior Manager. “The results of our poll further strengthen the need for the Government of Ontario to support France Gélinas’ new Private Members’ bill that restricts youth under 18 year of age from using indoor tanning equipment."

The poll conducted by Ipsos Reid investigated tanning behaviours of Ontario youth ages 12 to 17.

Key findings:

  • 52% of youth indoor tanners say that their parents pay for their tanning bed use
  • 24% of youth indoor tanners say that parents first introduced them to tanning
  • 21% of youth in grade 12 are using tanning beds
  • 11% of youth in grade 11 are using tanning beds
  • 8% (1 in 10) youth in Ontario are using a tanning bed, up from 5% six years ago

Meet Kate, 21 year old melanoma cancer survivor

As a teenager growing up in Belleville, Kate Neale wanted to be tanned. Against the wishes of her parents and regardless of the fact that she had very light and sunburn-prone skin, Kate started indoor tanning at age 16. In the beginning, she tanned two to three times a week but soon ended up going for 12 to 16 minutes in the highest UVB pressured bed (double strength) sessions up to 16 times per month. The recommended maximum tanning time on this particular bed was 12 minutes (there was a sticker on the bed that stated this), however the salon allowed customers to tan in this bed for up to 30 minutes.

After graduating high school, Kate applied for a job at a tanning salon. She signed a contract saying that in return for maintaining a tanned appearance she would receive 12 free indoor tanning sessions and one spray tan per month. She worked in the salon for two and half years and studied Marketing at Loyalist College in Belleville before heading to Ottawa to work as an office administrator.

In May 2011, while visiting her parents, Kate’s mother noticed that a freckle on her daughter’s stomach had changed. A visit to a dermatologist and a biopsy later, confirmed that the freckle was actually melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Over the next few weeks, Kate underwent three more biopsies for skin lesions on her right breast, leg and arms.

“I’ll never forget going to the surgeon’s office with my mom — he thought she was the patient. When he realized that I was the patient, he told me I was the youngest person he’d ever treated for melanoma. I’m only 21,” says Kate. “Fortunately my cancer was found at an early-stage (Clarks Stage 2), when it was non-invasive. Today, I have a six-inch scar on my stomach and live with so much fear.”

Despite her experience, Kate says she’s still addicted to maintaining a tanned appearance but now uses self-tanning lotion or spray tanning. Her battle with skin cancer is not over. Frequently new spots appear on her skin and she says they are always changing. Currently, Kate is waiting for the results of another biopsy, which left her with 22 stitches on her left breast, and a total of 8 spots have been removed since June, one being pre-cancerous. Repeated doctor’s visits and the stress and anxiety of the situation have taken their toll on her academic and work career. This January, Kate left Ottawa and headed back to live with her parents.

Recently, Kate started volunteering with the Canadian Cancer Society, spending her time educating local teenagers about the dangers of indoor tanning and encouraging them to host a Tan-Free Prom this spring. She’s also become vocal about the need for regulation of the indoor tanning industry.

“If politicians need a reason to take action on this issue, they should just take a look at my story to see how tanning at a young age has impacted my life,” says Kate.

On April 26, Kate will be among more than 80 Canadian Cancer Society volunteers and staff from across the province who will gather at Queens Park to discuss the Society’s policy recommendations on indoor tanning which include:

  • Prohibiting youth under the age of 18 from using indoor tanning equipment
  • Restricting indoor tanning promotions and marketing targeted to youth
  • Maintaining a registry or licensing system for indoor tanning equipment in use in Ontario with fees put towards enforcement
  • Introducing mandatory and comprehensive training that is specific to Ontario for all staff operating indoor tanning equipment. Training would include operation procedures, maintenance and how to identify people with fair skin who are at greater risk of developing cancer.
  • Ensuring the health risks associated with ultraviolet radiation (UVR) emitting devices are displayed prominently and in clear view of clients at all indoor tanning facilities

Legislative action needed now

Diseases such as cancer are taking a significant toll on an already strained healthcare system. Skin cancer is mostly preventable and is often treated by a dermatologist or a family doctor with costs billed to OHIP. In 2011, Cancer Care Ontario estimated the cost of skin cancer in province would exceed $344 million[i]. In 2011, it was estimated that 5,500 Canadians were diagnosed with melanoma and 74,100 with non-melanoma skin cancer[ii].

“Enacting legislation to prevent skin cancer should be a no-brainer for all political parties because it provides an opportunity for substantial healthcare cost reduction,” says Joanne Di Nardo. “Also, fees collected by a licensing or registry would off-set the costs of an effective enforcement strategy.”

Ontario needs to join other jurisdictions such as France, California, Australia, United Kingdom, Nova Scotia and British Columbia in taking proactive steps to address this pressing cancer prevention issue.

"With thousands of letters and postcards from youth asking for this legislation and an industry which cannot be trusted to self-regulate, it's time for the government to step in,” says France Gélinas, MPP, Nickel Belt and NDP Health Critic. “This is a commonsense solution to the increasing rates of skin cancer among youth and young adults; it won't cost the government anything and it will help prevent the multiple costs associated with a lifetime of cancer-related care for people and the government."

About the poll

The Ipsos Reid poll was conducted in April, 2012, on behalf of the Canadian Cancer Society’s Ontario Division. For this survey, a sample of 1,476 students in grades 7-12, aged 12 to 17, from Ipsos' Canadian online panel was interviewed online. Gender was split 50/50, census data provided regional weights and each grade level was given equal weight. A survey with an unweighted probability sample of this size and a 100% response rate would have an estimated margin of error of +/- 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what the results would have been had the entire population of students in Ontario in grade 7 to 12, aged 12 to 17, been polled.


[i] Cancer Care Ontario. Cancer Fact: Cost of skin cancer in Ontario will exceed $344 million in 2011. June 2011. Available at http://www.cancercare.on.ca/cancerfacts/

[ii] Canadian Cancer Society’s Steering Committee on Cancer Statistics, Canadian Cancer Statistics 2011. Toronto, ON: Canadian Cancer Society; 2011.

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For more information, please contact:

Justin Edmonstone

Public Affairs

Canadian Cancer Society

Ontario Division

Phone: 416-323-7026