We Are Sunshine

NYT Columnist Addicted to Misinformation

Thursday, June 24th, 2010


New York Times syndicated health columnist Jane Brody penned a column this week suggesting that indoor tanning and suntanning may be addictive — a scientifically dubious thought being promoted by groups who are lobbying against the indoor tanning market as an attempt to discourage tanning.

What was wrong with Brody’s column?

“While it may be appropriate to objectively ask: “Can tanning be addictive?” it isn’t responsible to have that discussion without ever acknowledging the incredibly obvious: that humans are naturally attracted to sunlight, are intended to be attracted to sunlight but have been counseled by dermatology in the past 15 years to defy that natural attraction,” Smart Tan Vice President Joseph Levy said. “Brody’s column failed to put this issue in its proper context. What’s more, she only talked to researchers who have drunk the anti-sun Kool-aid.”

Brody’s column suggests that the reason people continue to tan even though dermatologists tell them not to is because tanning may be addictive. “In fact, Ms. Brody totally ignored what should be the default explanation: People are still tanning because they realize cosmetic dermatologists and chemical sunscreen manufacturers have lied to them, have over-stated the risks associated with overexposure to UV and have denied and ignored the benefits of regular sun exposure,” Levy said. “This latest attempt to classify a natural and intended attraction to sunlight as an addiction is only making matters worse for the anti-sun groups. Instead of sensiblizing their message, they are doubling-down on their lies.”

Our point: Saying that UV exposure can be addictive is like saying that humans are addicted to food and water. “These aren’t addictions. They are attractions,” Levy said.

Brody’s column suggests that an increase in reported skin cancer incidence can be attributed to tanning. Yet:

  • Canadian research this month showed there is not an actual increase in skin cancer incidence. In fact, the numbers are dropping.
  • The British dermatology community published a paper last year showing that there is not an actual increase in melanoma incidence — merely an increase in the number of skin patches dermatologists now classify as melanoma.
  • American data show that melanoma mortality in women under age 50 has been decreasing for a generation and that the only group seeing a substantial increase is men over age 50 — not the group that tans.
  • What’s more, other studies show that the only group seeing an increase in melanoma diagnosis are indoor workers. Those who get the most sun exposure are not getting more melanomas. In fact, indoor workers — who get 3-9 times less UV exposure — get more melanomas than outdoor workers.

“To examine this issue without examining those points is misleading at worst and fraudulent at best,” Levy said. “The sources in Brody’s column were acting more as political lobbyists than as true scientists.”

To read Brody’s column click here.

To read Smart Tan’s statement on why tanning should be called an attraction, not an addiction, click here.