State advocacy: A success story


By James Ertle, MD

I first became involved in the campaign against indoor tanning over 20 years ago when I was president of the Illinois Dermatological Society. At that time, our society worked with Illinois legislators to pass a strong law on tanning parlors. We wanted a ban for everyone under 18, but in a compromise with the tanning parlor business lobby, our society advocated that anyone from 14 to 17 years of age needed parental permission to access a tanning parlor. After three attempts, the bill became law.

In 2013, we’re working to enact a law that will ban indoor tanning statewide for minors under 18. Enacting legislation can be a slow, tedious process, but it can be hugely rewarding when you succeed at your efforts. The Illinois bill on indoor tanning has already passed the House and the Senate, and is awaiting Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature to become law.

Two local events offered major momentum to the passage of this bill. Dr. Alix Charles, current president of the Illinois Dermatological Society, led the charge to ban indoor tanning in Chicago for minors under 18, a measure that was passed by the Chicago City Council. In addition, Dr. Judy Knox testified before Springfield City Council on the hazards of indoor tanning, and, as a result, a similar city ordinance was passed in the Illinois capital. This demonstrated to the Illinois legislature that the issue was important statewide.

The first time we lobbied the Illinois legislature on the issue, it was met with a lot of resistance from Republicans who felt it was anti-business. The second time, the bill was sponsored by Republican Sen. Christine Radogno, which helped us build bipartisan support.

Throughout the process, the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA), has been a tremendous resource. They supplied model laws and model resolutions we could use to craft legislation. They also awarded the Illinois Dermatological Society a grant that enabled us to organize a lobby day at the state capitol where we held a skin cancer screening for legislators. Furthermore, the AADA’s Dermatology Advocacy Network (DAN) links dermatologists to their state legislators, making it easier for members to send letters to legislators at key moments in the legislative process.

Because the Academy is headquartered in a suburb of Chicago, we’ve used the Academy’s main office as our meeting place. We formed a coalition of 25 representatives from key organizations, including a lobbyist with AIM at Melanoma, the senior director of the Illinois chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Cancer Society. AADA staff traveled from Washington D.C. to organize a strategic planning meeting for us with the other coalition members.

Passing legislation at the state level can be a long and frustrating challenge. But we’re not in it alone! The AADA provides expert advice, support, and resources to Academy members and state dermatology societies advocating on behalf of their patients and practices at the state and local level.

Dr. Ertle is past president of the Chicago Dermatological Society, the Illinois Dermatological Society, and also the Great Lakes Dermatological Society. He currently works as an assistant professor of dermatology at Rush Medical College in Chicago.

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