Monday, February 25, 2013

My Date With Politicians

I know. I'm officially a blog failure. I kept you waiting 2 weeks for an update. I'll be honest, I was so bummed following my day in Richmond, I really needed a break from all things melanoma. So, I took it.

Back to that day with a group of mostly bow tie wearing politicians...

I grabbed my glasses, squeezed into a pencil skirt, dug out a blazer and headed to Richmond on Valentine's Day for my date with a group of politicians to discuss SB1274, which would have banned children under age 15 from tanning and would have required teens 15-17 to have written parental consent before using public tanning beds. Before I get into the details, I must say that I do not regret going to the meeting. I told my story, I met some great people, and I believe there will be opportunities in the future that are results of that trip.

The meeting was held in House Room D, located in the General Assembly building in Richmond, VA.
*I took notes while others were speaking, this may not be the best blog post, but I want to make sure to include all of the important comments.

I was lucky to be seated with Taylor, a high school student who created this bill with her classmate Emma, and presented it to Senator Barker. Taylor, her mom and Taylor's government teacher were all such sweet people. It was truly a great experience meeting them. This bill started as a project for their class and it went further than they could have imagined!

When it was time to discuss SB1274 Senator Barker quickly presented the outline of the bill to committee members. Taylor spoke on the behalf of minors and presented the committee with reasons why the bill is needed. She mentioned something that I found to be very interesting; Taylor said that many of her classmates are surprised that tanning for minors is not already outlawed! I mean, they outlaw smoking, right?! Following Taylor's speech, a pediatrician provided more research as to why this bill is needed. She stated that she believes a bill needs to be made that would prevent all minors from using tanning beds. Delegate Spruill asked the pediatrician, "Can an 18 year old get cancer as easily as a 17 year old?" *I thought for a minute that he was on our side, that he sees the need for a ban on tanning; however, I quickly realized my mistake. (More on that later.) Delegate Spruill stated that if a bill is placed, it should not be for teens who are 17 because of our inability to control them. Senator Barker politely told him that we are discussing minors, children, and he believes he did a great job controlling his own kids.

With the young lady who helped write SB1274.
Then it was my turn to speak. I had a general outline of a speech that I re-wrote in my head numerous times during that 2 hour and 45 minute drive to Richmond. What I really said was a version of this:

"Hello, my name is Chelsea & I'm here today to urge you to pass this bill. I was 14 years old when I began tanning because I wanted to be pretty in my prom dress. Although I was somewhat aware of the risks, I was far more concerned with being beautiful than the possibility of skin cancer. Imagine my shock when at 23 a dermatologist told me that I have an advanced stage of malignant melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer. Since then there have been multiple surgeries,numerous trips to the chemo suite, and an always present fear of this silent killer, melanoma. I remind you, UV rays from indoor tanning are classified by the World Health Organization as class 1 carcinogens, just like tobacco smoke. I ask that you pass this bill not as a way to take away rights, but as a way to save lives. I beg you to pass this bill with the hope that another young girl will not have to hear the words 'it's cancer' all because of a stupid habit she developed years ago. You have the opportunity to save lives. I ask that you use it."

What I really said, who the heck knows, but The Virginian-Pilot did pick out a few key lines from the speech. You can read their review of the meeting here:

Chairman Kilgore thanked me for coming to share my story & a representative from The American Cancer Society spoke following my speech. He gave the statistics, he presented the committee with the hard  facts, and he reminded the members that this cancer is killing our young. (I found this article on their website while searching for something else. It's a great read.)

Once again, Delegate Spruill spoke up and asked, "What stops them from going to Virginia Beach and getting a sunburn?" He expressed his uncertainty about the bill and said that he would hate to put tanning salons out of business. Chairman Kilgore responded to Delegate Spruill with, "Get your own bill." 

Then there was the moment I was dreading: the moment when I had to stay quiet in my seat and listen to someone--particularly a tanning salon owner--speak about how there is no need for this bill. I was quite shocked when Mrs. Woods began her speech with, "It has nothing to do with tanning. It has everything to do with taking parental authority away." Mrs. Woods, who owns Copa Cabana Tanning in Chesapeake, VA, said that in her 20 years of business, she has never had a 14 year old in her salon (I'm calling BS on that!) She brought a group of people with her--about 6--and had them stand up and raise their hands if they tan. Only one lady raised her hand. Mrs. Woods reinforced the fact that she was not opposing the bill that could possibly hurt her business. In fact, she made subtle jokes about the damage tanning has done to her skin. (She even walked by Taylor and I afterwards and said "Let me move. You don't want the tan lady in your picture!") She did say that because she realizes that tanning can be dangerous, she makes sure to take extra precautions. Everyone who is employed by her is Smart Tan Certified, customers must sign waivers stating that they know the risks, and parents can withdraw their consent at any time.

Mrs. Woods continued to insist that she has an issue that the bill would take away parental rights, she said it would take away parental authority. One committee member asked asked Mrs. Woods why this bill upsets her when we have laws that forbids minors from drinking, smoking, smoking pot, and forces parents to keep their kids in car seats. Mrs.Woods responds with the fact that minors can have abortions. (Honestly, the room went nuts after that comment. There was laughing, shaking of heads, and loud groans from committee members. Mrs. Woods had her moment & it was quickly over.)

(I have to say that Mrs. Woods was very polite. She came up following the meeting and shook our hands, and said she hoped she didn't say anything to offend me. I simply half-smiled and shook her hand. I wasn't going to get in a pissing contest with her. I respected her for never saying that tanning is safe and healthy. She didn't pull the vitamin D card. She didn't lie about the risks associated with tanning. (That being said, the group who came with her was not as polite. They made rude comments while we were speaking, yet they became very angry when I shook my head to disagree with something Mrs. Woods said. One lady said something rude to Taylor, a minor, and her teacher turned around and told her not to speak to her again. She didn't. It wasn't the classiest meeting. At all.)

Of course there was a representative from the American Sun Tanning Association. He was so insignificant that he really doesn't deserve to be mentioned. He was pretty much laughed off the stand. Seriously, I was in the first row and couldn't even hear his speech because everyone was talking/laughing/carrying on like he wasn't talking. (Like I said, it wasn't the classiest meeting.)

The main concerns committee members voiced:

1) What prevents teens from going to the beach and getting the same sunburn that they would get from a tanning bed? (This was only voiced once by one member.)

2) Delegate Bell asked, "What happens if they get it wrong?" Everyone was initially confused by his question, but he explained that he didn't understand what would happen if a tanning salon owner allowed a minor to tan. He wanted to know the penalty if the tanning salon guesses the wrong age of the patron? He said, "...looks 19, doesn't get written consent, tans." He, and others, wanted to know who would be held responsible: the salon for failing to get the appropriate information and consent or the patron for failing to give appropriate information? *The lack of penalty was a big conversation piece. This is definitely something that will have to be worked on before the bill goes in front of a committee again. Delegate Bill flat out said he opposed the bill because it would take away the rights of parents; however, he treated the bill in a fair manner by asking a lot of questions about the penalty. He stated that it was "commendable" of Senator Barker to present the bill; however, he didn't see why it was necessary. Chairman Kilgore responded, "...because he has a conscience."  (If you didn't pick up on it, Chairman Kilgore tells it like it is. I liked him a lot.)

The committee did not vote on the bill, they tabled it. This means that the bill died this year; however, it can be presented again next year. Following the meeting, one delegate approached me and offered her support. She basically said that she knew I would be bummed, but she wanted to talk to me about certain reasons why the bill was tabled. She said that many of the committee members heard about the bill for the very first time that day. They were not expecting it. Secondly, the bill needs to be stronger. The unknowns need to be answered. The bill needs to sound solid. Third, there needs to be a penalty for those who do not obey the law. What's the point of saying tanning salons need to get written consent before their young patrons tan if no one is going to be held accountable if they fail to get that consent?

My gut tells me that this committee would not be opposed to an under 18 tanning ban if the bill is more defined, the penalties are outlined, and the members are made aware of the bill. I know it seems like a hassle to email your committee members, but I learned just how important it really is. They need to hear from us! The louder we are, the less likely they are to shove something aside for another year. 

Here I am with Taylor & Senator Barker

Attending the meeting was an incredible learning experience. I realized just how much work we have ahead of us; however, I saw firsthand that maybe we should aim higher and protect ALL minors, not just some of them! 

*I would like to thank Taylor and her classmate Emma for their work on this bill. Had they not created this bill for their lovely government teacher, I do not believe teens and tanning would have been discussed at the general assembly this year! I would also like to thank Senator Barker for bringing this bill to the committee. Although the bill was tabled this year, I believe we created an impact on the members. They will think of us when their daughter wants to begin tanning for prom season...Let's hope they make the right decision!

I'm already planning for next year!


Strong Steph said...

Bless you Chelsea and know you are doing GOOD THINGS! Just getting the word out is phenomenal!!

Unknown said...

and I'll be there with you next year! That is a promise! Awesome job, Chelsea!

Ashley said...

You have changed my view on tanning so much over the past year. you are making a difference!

Janice said...

Excellent synopsis - you have a plan - you are doing great things here! It must have been very discouraging, but I sense that your resolve is stronger than ever. Great job - thank you!


Anonymous said...

You have made a big difference in my house. There is no more tanning and we all have had/have skin checks so it is working. Keep doing what you do God Bless.

Rose ~ from Oz said...

Congratulations Chelsea, you continue such great work and you conduct your work with intelligence and grace.
(Same can't be said for some of the behaviour in that meeting room!)

Thank you for such a thorough post and for the work you put in to it.