We Are Sunshine

CDC Report More Politics Than Science

Friday, May 11th, 2012

With the objective of laying out approaches to curb skin cancer incidence in the United States, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published two reports on sunburn incidence and indoor tanning usage Thursday — targeting conclusions about young women and indoor tanning while not mentioning a single word about the demographic most likely to contact skin cancer: men over age 50.

“The CDC’s report is so transparently political — it is a scientific embarrassment if you actually understand the data about skin cancer,” Smart Tan Executive Director Joseph Levy said Thursday. “Skin cancer is increasing rapidly in older men. It is by far more common in older men. And they don’t mention a single word about older men. It’s like doing a report on the dangers of surfing but only talking about people in Kansas.”

The report alleges 50.1 percent of all adults report at least one sunburn a year – a number that has not changed from 2000-2010 despite an increase in reported sunscreen usage. The report did not mention that sunscreen sales have increased much faster in that time period than the report’s suggestion of just a minor increase in usage. The second survey reported that young women are the most likely to use indoor tanning equipment — attempting to make the case or infer that indoor tanning usage is somehow related to the fact that sunburn incidence in the general population has not decreased.

Smart Tan surveys show that indoor tanners sunburn less often than non-tanners.

CDC leaked the report to the Associated Press and to one other media outlet ahead of its publication, according to the CDC press office. Levy spoke with the Associated Press reporter Wednesday, who would not allow him to see the study in advance to comment on it. CDC denied Smart Tan’s request to see the study ahead of publication. Had Levy not contacted AP, no tanning industry representative would have been quoted in the story.

“We sent material to AP for the story blindly — anticipating what it was about without being able to see the study,” Levy said. “Had we seen it we would have been able to point out to the reporter that the report ignored the group getting the most cancer with the largest increase in cancer. But AP talked to multiple parties promoting the study’s conclusions — all of whom seemed to have advance access to the paper.”

The CDC report’s conclusions and calls for action precisely match the American Academy of Dermatology’s political agenda regarding indoor tanning — calling for restrictions on under-18 usage of indoor tanning facilities and asking FDA to reclassify tanning units in the same category as dermatology sunbeds. “That CDC is asking for FDA to reclassify tanning beds makes absolutely no sense in the context of this paper,” Levy said. “Such an action will have no impact on the consumer’s experience with sunbeds in any way. It will just add cost to the manufacture of the equipment. It’s clear CDC was more interested in advancing AAD’s politics than actually looking at reducing sunburn incidence in the population.”

CDC collected sunburn data on all age groups, but “analyses were limited to adults aged 18-29 years” according to the report.

Here is the CDC’s press release about the reports.