OMAHA (CN) – The Nebraska Cancer Coalition’s “The Bed is Dead” campaign against indoor tanning is a defamatory attempt to destroy salons and send business to cosmetic dermatologists, tanning businesses claim in court.
JB & Associates and six other small business owners who operate 30 tanning salons in the Omaha and Lincoln markets sued the cancer coalition Wednesday in Douglas County Court. Also named as defendants are the coalition’s president and vice president, Drs. Alan Thorson and David Watts.
The cancer coalition created a website – theBedisDead.org – to educate Nebraska girls and their parents about the alleged dangers of indoor tanning. The coalition asks girls to sign a pledge not to tan indoors and to spread the message.
The campaign slogan is: “Protecting your skin is in. Tanning is out. And the bed is dead.” It calls tanning a “fashion faux pas.”
The tanning salon operators call the campaign a defamatory attempt to destroy them through a “concerted, multi-front attack on plaintiffs’ businesses.” They also call it deceptive trade.
They claim that disparaging tanning salons will benefit the coalition’s financial contributors and members – including dermatologists and providers of therapeutic UV light treatment and equipment – by sending former tanning salon customers their way.
Dr. Watts, vice president of the coalition, is one dermatologist who stands to reap financial gain from the destruction of tanning businesses, the complaint states.
In the lengthy lawsuit, the salon operators say the coalition makes inaccurate and misleading statements on its website that are scientifically unfounded.
Among them, the tanners say, are a website section comparing the dangers of tanning to the dangers of smoking. The website says in a variety of ways that tanning causes more cancers than do cigarettes, according to the complaint.
These statements are not true, the businesses say, citing statistics that show tobacco is responsible for nearly 500,000 deaths a year – 37 times more than the total number of skin cancer deaths in the United States.
And most skin cancer deaths occur in men older than 50 who have never used a sunbed, the salons claim.
The website also states that tanning before age 35 raises the risk of melanoma by nearly 60 percent.
This statistic has been discredited, which was acknowledged by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control when it changed its website to drop the statement that “people who begin tanning younger than age 35 have a 59 percent increased risk of melanoma,” the salons say.
Analyses of several studies “have shown no statistically significant risk of melanoma from combined home and commercial tanning salon use of sunbeds for persons under age 25, and other studies have shown a much higher risk for home use than for commercial tanning salon use,” the complaint states.
The salons rebut 11 more statements the coalition makes on its website, including that tanning beds have been proven to cause skin cancer and that just one indoor tanning session can increase the risk of melanoma by 20 percent.
Curt Bowen, president of lead plaintiff JB & Associates, said it is “unfortunate that Nebraska tanning salon owners must seek relief in the legal system to preserve the right to operate our businesses free from misinformation.”
“But in this case, our very livelihoods are on the line,” he said.
Bart Bonn, president of co-plaintiff Ashley Lynn’s, said that tanning salons “advocate moderate and sensible UV exposure to Nebraska citizens who choose to tan, and pride ourselves in operating our businesses within both FDA guidelines and the law.”
Bonn added: “It is both unfair and unlawful for the NCC to attack our businesses with a campaign full of deception and untruths.”
The Nebraska Cancer Coalition is not fazed.
President Alan Thorson said the coalition is committed to its mission of cancer prevention and that the information on its Bed is Dead website is an “integral part of this mission.”
“The intent of thebedisdead.org is to inform Nebraska teens and their parents on the potential hazards of excessive ultraviolet radiation exposure and dangers of indoor tanning. As the information on the site is supported by well-accepted research and epidemiologic literature, with appropriate references, we will continue to defend the actions and statements made,” Thorson said.
The cancer coalition is reviewing the lawsuit’s claims, Thorson said.
“Regardless, we believe this is a subject that is more appropriate for civilized, scientific discussion rather than the courtroom,” he said.
The 37-page lawsuit includes another 20 pages of correspondence between the cancer coalition and the tanners’ attorneys, including a request from the attorneys for a public debate on the issue, moderated by a university professor.
The tanning salons seek an injunction “enjoining defendants from further deceptive trade practices and defamatory statements,” removal of the “false and/or misleading statements” from the website, ordering the coalition to cease and desist from using thebedisdead as a website name and in print, a retraction, costs of suit and damages.
Their lead counsel is Henry Wiedrich, with Husch & Blackwell.
Scientific opinion on tanning varies. Some find it protective, as tanned skin is more resistant to sunburn than untanned skin. But its links to skin cancer have been demonstrated in numerous studies.
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