Persistence, coalition building critical for successful indoor tanning advocacy


By David Watts, MD

State indoor tanning (IT) reform is finally hitting a stride — it’s steadily gaining support on a wider level. In reaching out for support, dermatologists from Nebraska (one of 17 states with no tanning regulation) were warmed by an overwhelmingly positive response from patients, physicians, public health groups, insurance representatives, and legislators.

However, passing IT legislation is complex. The IT industry has mounted an intense, negative lobbying campaign in Nebraska, as it has in other states. In addition, legislators are apprehensive about imposing any prohibition on constituents. Most states with IT laws have built momentum over several legislative cycles to pass and strengthen them.

Key factors in the Nebraska Dermatology Society’s (NDS) success in expanding their support included peer-to-peer contact, public education, and hiring a lobbyist (with the support of the AADA State Advocacy Grant Program). Our lobbyist was invaluable in finding a sponsor, lobbying key committee members, and navigating procedural issues.

The Nebraska coalition for protecting minors under 18 from IT included the American Cancer Society (ACS), AIM at Melanoma, the American Society of Dermatologic Surgery Association (ASDSA), the Nebraska Medical Association (NMA), and several state specialty medical societies.

Working with the AADA and ASDSA, NDS developed a resolution for the NMA’s House of Delegates and reached out to state specialty societies with possible interest. As a result, family practice, internal medicine, pediatrics, ophthalmology, otolaryngology, OB-GYN, and oncology collectively co-sponsored the resolution, which was adopted by the NMA for their 2013 legislative agenda.

Lobbyists for several societies and the NMA subsequently broadened our base of support. Coventry Health Care testified in support of the bill because of economic implications to insurers.

The ACS experience with the tobacco industry drew helpful strategic parallels to the IT industry. AIM at melanoma was an amazing resource.

Support from the NMA was critical. Physicians are the most trusted authorities for health-related information, and so we discussed the issue with as many providers and provider groups as possible to inform them of the issue.

Personal contacts with news media earned media coverage of the issue, which helped inform and engage the public. The news director of a local TV station spent a morning in my clinic for a community internship program sponsored by the medical society and became a supporter.

We spoke at high schools, colleges, and public health groups to continue public education efforts. We are helping to develop high school curricula and programs to inform students and parents of the risks of indoor tanning. We also composed op-ed pieces for local newspapers.

Although there are many potential obstacles ahead in the legislative process, NDS and its coalition of supporters remain committed and are getting closer to realizing their advocacy goals in 2014.

Dr. Watts is a board-certified dermatologist, fellowship-trained in Mohs micrographic surgery. He is in private practice in Omaha, Neb. and works at the University of Nebraska Medical Center faculty as an adjunct assistant professor.