Tanning salons burned over proposed health care tax

KANSAS CITY — Pretty woman walking down the street ... It looks like you're getting burned.

One of the revenue sources tucked in to the all-but-approved Senate health care bill stands out like a South Dakota farmer on Miami Beach.

A 10 percent tax on tanning bed use.

“I think it’s kind of sexist, I really do,” said Jodi King, 44, a frequent tanner at the Tan Spot in Lee's Summit.

Others say it’s sort of a “sin” tax to promote safety.

“They chose us because we can’t fight back. We’re too little,” said Howard Hogan, owner of Sun Resorts Tanning Salons in Topeka and Lawrence.

The tanning lobby, of course, pales in comparison to the clout of cosmetic surgeons, who at one point feared a 5 percent tax on elective cosmetic surgery, a measure dubbed the “Botax.”

After a massive push by plastic surgeons and the American Medical Association, that idea was sliced away and the tax on tans was grafted on.

Eric Swanson of the Swanson Center for Cosmetic & Laser Surgery sees taxing either tanning or cosmetic surgery as the same — a gender issue and “an unfair tax on working women.”

Women make up almost all of tanning bed clients (85 percent) and cosmetic surgery patients (93 percent).

Doctors performed more than 10 million cosmetic procedures in 2008.

The top procedures: 2.5 million Botox injections; 1.3 million hyaluronic acid anti-wrinkle or “face lift” injections; 600,000 chemical peels; 356,000 breast augmentations; 195,000 liposuctions; 190,000 eyelid surgeries; 150,00 nose jobs.

The tanning industry estimates that 30 million people absorb their rays a year.

“In either case, they seem to be penalizing that demographic group,” said Swanson, the Leawood cosmetic surgeon. “To women, appearance is important What’s wrong with that? Generally, my patients might be in their 30s or 40s. They’ve got kids, and what they’re paying is not an easy expense.”

Others note a difference between cosmetic surgery and tanning: Much of cosmetic surgery is helpful, while tanning is linked to skin cancer.

“We’re all going to die eventually anyway,” said King, who’s convinced that moderate tanning is safe. “I just won’t be as pale as everyone else.”

Donna Commins, 60, of Lenexa, used to enjoy tanning and concedes to have had some procedures —“enough that people think I’m in my 40s.”

“It’s discrimination,” she said. “In the world today, especially in the working world, women need to look their best. Even we middle-class ladies want to feel good and look good.”

The average tanning session costs between $6 and $10 with monthly rates ranging between $30 and $40.

The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that a 10 percent tax on the $5 billion tanning industry could raise $2.7 billion over the next 10 years.

Although some think the tax could hurt the tanning business, Julie Walkins, owner of the Tan Spot, disagreed.

“In my experience, people who are going to tan are going to tan anyway, even if there is a nominal price increase,” she said.

“Ours is a women’s industry,” agreed John Overstreet, executive director of the Indoor Tanning Association: “The operators are women, the owners are women and most of the tanning customers are women — typically working women or college kids.”

Read the full story at KansasCity.com