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Panel backs banning minors from tanning salons after cancer victims’ pleas

KatrinPolansky 24 Chicago DonnMoncivaiz 50 Beach Park told City Council committee Wednesday about being diagnosed with melanomafter frequent visits tanning

Katrina Polansky, 24, of Chicago and Donna Moncivaiz, 50 of Beach Park, told a City Council committee Wednesday about being diagnosed with melanoma after frequent visits to tanning parlors.

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Updated: July 6, 2012 9:10AM

After tearful testimony from two former tanning bed enthusiasts diagnosed with melanoma, a City Council committee agreed Wednesday to ban minors from Chicago tanning parlors.

Donna Moncivaiz, 50, and Katrina Polansky, 24, put two faces on a problem that is mounting among young women to whom tanning parlors target their marketing appeals, according to the doctors who testified before the License Committee.

Polansky was diagnosed at the age of 20 after five years of 20-minute indoor tanning sessions five times a week or more. She described being “somewhat addicted” to tanning.

“My mother co-signed for me, which now is one of her biggest regrets. I’ll never forget the sound in her voice or the tears that she cried when I told her the news,” Polansky said.

“The melanoma was on my face, so the surgery was not pretty. I have over a dozen stitches and the scar is over five centimeters long on my cheek. I remember pulling up to my appointment. I could not stop staring at my face knowing that it was never gonna look the same.”

Polansky said she was awake through the surgery and will never forget the sound and smell of her skin burning. The scar took months to heal. The question, “What happened to your face?” never stops.

Pleading with the City Council’s License Committee to approve the ban, Polansky said, “If I wasn’t able to buy cigarettes or get a tattoo or make any other adult decision when I was 15, why was I able to do something so harmful to my body? I was too young to make this decision. I wanted to fit in and tan just like all the other girls. Their parents co-signed for them, so my mom thought it was OK to do it, too ….We should not have any mothers or fathers have to make that decision.”

Moncivaiz cried openly during Polansky’s testimony while seated next to the younger woman.

Earlier, she told her own sad story of indoor tanning — along with her two daughters — that led to her diagnosis with Stage 3 melanoma on her back that left a wound the size of a baseball that required a skin graft from her thigh to close. The cancer has spread to her lymph nodes.

“My prognosis, to be blunt, isn’t exactly rosy. . . My oncologist tells me there is a 70 to 80 percent chance of recurrence in the next five years. The bad thing about that is it likely will not be on . . . the outside of my body where I could see it and do something about it. It will likely be on my liver, my lungs or my brain,” she said.

Moncivaiz said her biggest regret is giving the go-ahead to her daughter to start tanning at the age of 15 before vacation, prom or hanging out at the beach with her friends. Her daughter was diagnosed with melanoma at the age of 24.

“The hardest thing of all is knowing that I gave her permission — that something that I said she could do harmed my child. I didn’t know any better. If I had, she certainly never would have set foot in a tanning bed. We know now and we can do something about that,” Moncivaiz said.

“It’s illegal for kids to smoke. It’s illegal for them to drink. And since the World Health Organization has declared that tanning beds are carcinogenic, why do we let them? We have to stop them and save their lives. I’m asking you to do that.”

Aldermen thanked the two women for the courage they showed in sharing their powerful personal stories.

“This was a very moving day. It’s clear we have to pass this,” said Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th), chief sponsor of the ordinance and a former sun worshipping teen herself.

The skin cancer victims did not provide the only compelling testimony on the need to ban minors from tanning parlors.

Dr. June Robinson, a research professor of dermatology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, told aldermen that people who use tanning beds before the age of 20 or have ten sessions in a lifetime double their risk of melanoma.

“Many of our young women will use ten tanning bed sessions in a single month. Let that sink in for a minute. Ten sessions in a month. Imagine the total cumulative lifetime exposure,” she said.

Silverstein’s ordinance would prohibit tanning parlors from serving anyone under 18 “regardless of whether the person has the permission of a parent or guardian.”

Bronzers and spray-on tans would not be covered by the ban. Neither would tanning devices “in private residences.”

Violators would face fines ranging from $100 to $250 for each offense.

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