Bronzed Aussie image no longer a good look
REVELATIONS in the Sunday Canberra Times that Australians are turning to potentially dangerous illegal tanning injections points to a major health concern that needs to be addressed.
According to federal government statistics, Australia is the skin cancer capital of the world, with higher incidence rates than any other country.
Australians are four times more likely to develop skin cancer than any other type of cancer.
Therefore it would seem madness for those already at risk from our harsh climate to place themselves at greater danger by injecting unproven drugs for the sake of a tan. Yet people continue to take these risks, despite efforts by authorities to prevent them from doing so.
While commercial solariums have been closing around the country in recent years because of tightening regulations, this newspaper has already reported on tanning beds being sold for use in private homes - often to people without sufficient training to understand the risks involved.
It would be wrong to accuse the government and the Cancer Council of not doing enough - Australia's regulations on tanning are some of the toughest in the world (in large part thanks to the awareness raised by young skin cancer victim Clare Oliver, who put the issue of tanning beds firmly on the national agenda shortly before her death in 2007).
But those determined enough will always find a way to get around bans, as evidenced by the trade in home tanning beds and the illegal importation of tanning drugs.
Perhaps the best way to address our appalling skin cancer record is to increase education efforts and elevate the condition to that of a national health priority.
The Grim Reaper campaign to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s was so successful it helped Australia achieve one of the lowest rates of infection in the world.
To date, skin cancer campaigns have focused largely on the risk of excessive sun exposure and the need to use sunscreen and hats and to seek shade. These messages are important but perhaps it is time to go further to focus more on the practice of tanning and try to confront the stereotypes that lead to the dangerous behaviour in the first place - perceptions that pale skin is somehow less healthy or attractive than a tanned body.
Reversing our views on the bronzed Aussie will be no small task, but we owe it to the more than 1400 Australians who die every year from melanomas to double our efforts.