We Are Sunshine

Does Reading The Paper Cause Cancer?

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

2010-04-20 Newspaper Cancer copyThe Houston Chronicle produced a bylined article this week slamming indoor tanning with material that was obviously supplied to it by an anti-tanning group. Although Chronicle reporter Dale Robertson put his name on the piece, we think he got all his material from the MD Anderson Cancer Center or the American Cancer Society, both of whom he provided as sources in the story with links to their web sites.

He didn’t quote any authority on indoor tanning in the story. Just the anti-sun lobbyists.

“Writing a story slamming someone without trying to contact that source is a no-no in journalism — at least as I remember from my days as a reporter,” Smart Tan Vice President Joseph Levy said. “I’m pretty sure Robertson got a press release with all of the points in his story from an anti-sun lobbying group and didn’t bother to get a second source for his story.”

Papers run press releases like that on occasion. But seldom with a staff byline.

The Chronicle said: “ Tanning is the body’s way of protecting itself from the ravages of ultraviolet radiation from natural (sunshine) or artificial (tanning beds) sources. When our skin is assaulted by UV rays, which can wreak havoc with the DNA of the epidermis, a browning pigment called melanin is produced as enzymes attempt to repair damage.”

The facts: Wrong. “Ravages”, “assaulted” and “wreak havoc” are words that make tanning sound like nitroglycerine instead of something your skin is naturally designed to do as part of the body’s natural and intended interaction with UV light. If MDAnderson or any of the pharmaceutical companies that support American Cancer Society sold UV from sunshine (which is free) the message about UV from any source would not contain the hyperbolic adjectives that the Chronicle used in its story.

The Chronicle said: “Those who want to sell or rent you time in a tanning bed insist their product produces only the “harmless” UVA ultraviolet radiation.”

The facts: Wrong. We don’t say that — and if you had bothered to interview us for the story, you’d know that. Indoor tanning delivers roughly the same mixture of UV light as noon-time sun exposure — both UVA and UVB. Indoor tanning facilities teach a balanced message, unlike the Chronicle which runs one-source stories.

The Chronicle said: “As with those who smoke, not everyone is going to get cancer from UV rays, no matter the source. So it pretty much boils down to this: Do you feel lucky?”

The facts: Both tanners and non-tanners have less than a 0.3 chance in 1,000 of succumbing to melanoma. A life-long smoker, on the other hand, has a 500 in 1,000 chance of dying from a smoking related disease. That’s 1,667 times greater in comparison.

And Our Counterpoint: Newsroom, heal thyself. Newspapers are printed using carcinogenic and toxic chemicals (1) (2). Does that mean “Read The Houston Chronicle at your own risk?” or would that be over-trumping the risks?

To read the Chronicle story click here.