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Anti-tanning group linking salons to cancer gets burned in court

By   /   December 14, 2015  /   No Comments

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LET THERE BE LIGHT: Tanning salons are suing an anti-cancer group for its campaign that links tanning beds with skin cancer.

By Josh Kaib | Watchdog Arena

When you think about tanning, Florida, California, even the Jersey Shore come to mind. But this tanning fracas is heating up in one of the last places you would expect: Nebraska. That’s where tanning salons have teamed up to take on a federally-funded anti-cancer group for linking their businesses to skin cancer.

The American Suntanning Association (ASA) announced last Monday that its lawsuit against the Nebraska Cancer Coalition (NCC) will proceed. The Nebraska District Court denied the NCC’s motion to dismiss.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of seven small business owners in Omaha and Lincoln, accuses the NCC and two of its officers of defamation and violations of the Nebraska Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

With the lawsuit proceeding, both sides are gearing up to make their case.

The origin of the lawsuit is the NCC’s “Bed is Dead” campaign, which sought to dissuade young girls from tanning for prom. At issue are some of the claims of the campaign, including that “indoor tanning causes more cancers than cigarettes every year.”

The lawsuit calls that and other claims “qualitatively misleading.”

“In the United States, tobacco use is responsible for nearly 1 in 5 deaths; this equals about 480,000 early deaths each year,” the lawsuit reads. “That number is approximately 37 times greater than the total number of skin cancer deaths in the United States annually (12,980)—the overwhelming majority of which occur in men over age 50 who never used a sunbed.”

The ASA says it repeatedly contacted the NCC about inaccuracies in the campaign over an 11-month period, but no corrections were made. NCC President Alan Thorson, one of the two officers named in the lawsuit, has publicly responded to the lawsuit, saying the subject of tanning and cancer is “more appropriate for civilized, scientific discussion rather than the courtroom.”

NCC’s vice chairman and skin cancer surgeon Dr. David Watts, the second officer named in the lawsuit, explained his motivation for the campaign back in April, telling the Lincoln Journal Star that he’s “sick of seeing young women die from a preventable cancer.”

But the tanning salons in the lawsuit claim they are being wrongly targeted.

“We advocate moderate and sensible UV [ultraviolet] exposure for Nebraska citizens who choose to tan, and pride ourselves in operating our businesses within both FDA guidelines and the law,” said tanning salon president Bart Bonn, one of the plaintiffs in the case. “It is both unfair and unlawful for the NCC to attack our businesses with a campaign full of deception and untruths.”

That campaign is funded in part by the Centers for Disease Control, according to the Washington Free Beacon, which cited the website of the “Bed is Dead” campaign.

“This campaign is supported by the Cooperative Agreement Number 5U58DP003928-02 from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” the site reads. “Its contents are solely the responsibility of the creators and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.”

The CDC has not commented publicly about the lawsuit, but told that Free Beacon that the $41,227 in CDC funding that went to NCC this fiscal year “is not just for their work about skin cancer.”

This article was written by a contributor of Watchdog Arena, Franklin Center’s network of writers, bloggers, and citizen journalists.

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Josh Kaib is the Franklin Center's Outreach and Content Manager. He has been published on FoxNews.com, National Review Online, Townhall.com, and the Daily Signal. Find him on Twitter: @joshkaib