What is the new Tanning Salon Tax

Part of the new revenue sources created by the 2009 healthcare bill passed by Congress, and signed into law by the Obama administration, is a new tax on indoor tanning salons. This tax charges an additional 10% on tanning services. The government expects to make several billion dollars off the scheme over the next decade. According to the Washington Post, the 10% tax is a surcharge levied at the time of purchase, in a way similar to other sales taxes. It was the result of a compromise in December 2009 in the Senate, which eliminated a smaller tax on elective cosmetic surgery and imposed the tax on the tanning industry instead. The tanning salon tax began being assessed in July 2010.

The new tanning salon tax is a sort of sin tax, intended by its proponents to raise the costs of an industry they see as socially harmful. In particular, many dermatologists and other critics of indoor tanning have long argued that deliberately increasing one’s exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, for example through using tanning beds, is most unwise, since long-term UV exposure is known to increase the risk of skin cancer and especially the dangerous form of skin cancer called melanoma. According to CNN, women who frequent tanning salons are statistically about half again more likely to develop melanoma later in life. It can also accelerate skin wrinkling and aging as a result of progressive damage to the skin.

As a result of these cancer concerns, many governments in developed countries have been increasingly restricting the activities of the tanning industry. For several years multiple jurisdictions in Canada have been considering requiring salon customers to be over 18 years old, so that youth are not put at risk. (This would be analogous to similar bans on youth purchasing cigarettes and other tobacco products.) The European Union is also considering new restrictions. In America, tanning beds must be certified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and must have recommended exposure limits so that customers can be informed and limit their risk.

The new tax, however, goes further – and the tanning industry is understandably unhappy about it. The federal lobby group, the Indoor Tanning Association, says that most of its members are small businesses, and that they may suffer and have to lay off workers if people visit more frequently in reaction to higher prices. Some tanning customers even believe that there are health benefits to using the beds, and that this tax unfairly punishes their attempts to stay healthy.