We Are Sunshine

St. Louis health reporter takes sun scare rhetoric to nuclear levels in his column

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

St. Louis Post-Dispatch Health Reporter Harry Jackson Jr. produced an entire column on the fact that an un-named tanning bed user challenged him to produce one piece of research that showed the mechanism by which tanning causes cancer.

2008-08-06-meltdown-tanningnews-copy.jpg“He said there’s a $10,000 reward for anyone who can prove that tanning beds cause skin cancer,” Jackson wrote. “This is my rub: It irks me when public people make statements that depend on the public not knowing the facts. So let’s clear this up: No one has proven that tanning beds cause cancer. In fact, no one knows definitively what causes any cancer.”

Jackson continued, “The term, ‘causes’ cancer is misnomer for both sides of the cancer aisle. Doctors who define what is a cause, instead, identify a set of conditions including genetics, environment, lifestyle and other factors. When researchers find combinations of conditions, and statistics show that under those conditions, more cancer appears than among people who don’t face those conditions, then, people are considered at higher risk. When the factors result in cancer so regularly that it’s a given — for example, nearly all of the firefighters who fought the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl came down with or have died of cancer — scientists feel safe calling the conditions a ‘cause.’ But they can’t say how.”

He concluded, “So the scientific information shouldn’t say tanning beds cause cancer. But science needs to keep the word out that people who use tanning beds face a higher risk of developing skin cancer than people who don’t.”

The problem with Jackson’s logic: “He’s essentially saying that the end justifies the means – that it doesn’t matter whether or not there is scientific proof. When journalists stop seeking proof for material they write, that’s when society is really in trouble.”

The other major error in Jackson’s logic: comparing UV light, which is natural and which humans need to survive, to nuclear radiation emitted from the Chernobyl meltdown. “That comparison insults our intelligence,” Levy said.

To read Jackson’s column and Levy’s response click here.

Here’s the text of Levy’s full response:

Tanning is not an addiction: UV light is an attraction. Just like humans are attracted to food, water and air, we are attracted to sunlight. We need it to live.

Consider this: Saying that UV light is harmful, and therefore people should not tan, is akin to saying that exercise “damages” muscles, and therefore people should not exercise. To call UV exposure “damage” is to use a micro-definition of a macro-phenomena: It just isn’t true.

Consider this: UV exposure is the body’s natural and intended way to manufacture vitamin D. And we now know that no less than 60 percent of Americans and 97 percent of Canadians are vitamin D deficient.

A suntan gained in a non-burning fashion will make 10,000 – 25,000 IU of vitamin D the natural way. In comparison, a glass of whole milk contains just 100 IU of vitamin D.

It now appears that people need thousands of IU of vitamin D daily to get to natural vitamin D levels. There’s no other way to get there without UV light — diet and supplements fall way short.

Now consider that the $35 billion cosmeceutical industry has made record profits telling you to wear sunscreen 365 days a year – which is totally unnecessary most of the year in St. Louis. Instead of marketing sunscreen as a product to prevent sunburn on days when sunburn is possible, they’re telling you to wear it every day – even in your makeup – and they’re profiting from this misinformation.

The indoor tanning community does a better job teaching sunburn prevention than those who sell and market sunscreen products with over-the-top sun scare messaging. That’s the story you should be telling here. Instead you’re falling into “sun scare” propaganda.

For more information on vitamin D, visit the independent Vitamin D Council’s web site:

For more information on the professional tanning community’s scientifically supported positions read the reports at