Clause 5

Sunbeds (Regulation) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:45 pm on 10 February 2010.

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Power to require information to be provided to sunbed users

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Julie Morgan Julie Morgan Labour, Cardiff North

The clause gives the power to ensure that information is provided to sunbed users. It will be necessary for sunbed businesses to provide and display information about the health risks of using sunbeds. Regulations, if introduced, will also ban sunbed businesses from promoting the use of sunbeds as healthy. They should be prohibited from promoting unproven health benefits. The information that has already been mentioned in the debate is essential, not just for under-18s, but for people of all ages.

Sunbeds have been linked to various poor health conditions, including eye damage, photodermatosis, photosensitivity, premature skin ageing and skin cancer. People cannot always see straight away the damage that ultra-violet light does: the point has been made strongly that it builds up gradually and may be causing damage for years ahead. SunSmart, the UK’s national skin cancer prevention programme, says that

“short periods of intense, irregular UV exposure, like you get on a sunbed, are the fastest way to damage your skin”.

That happens whether the user burns or not.

It is crucial that accurate health information is provided to users of a salon, so that adults can make informed choices about the risks to their health if they decide to use a sunbed. The Bill would introduce a measure to provide health information in sunbed salons, via regulations, which I strongly commend.

Promoting unsupported benefits of sunbeds is irresponsible when we know that they significantly increase the risk of malignant melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, as well as prematurely ageing the skin. By using sunbeds people run the risk of sunburn and damaged skin for the sake of little protection against future sun exposure. Sunbeds are a not a safe way of building up vitamin D levels, as is often claimed. Other Committee members may be aware that some tanning salons have advertised to customers by saying, “Get your vitamin D here.”

This is an important part of the Bill. Along with legislation, it is important that children and other members of the public are made aware of the risks associated with the use of sunbeds. The national skin cancer prevention campaign called SunSmart, which is funded by the Department of Health and run by Cancer Research UK, aims to do that. It produces information warning of the risks associated with sunbed use. Ensuring that clear, accurate health information is displayed is another critical way to increase public knowledge about the dangers of sunbeds and to dispel some of the inaccurate myths that suggest that sunbed use is a safer alternative to the sun.

Photo of Mark Simmonds Mark Simmonds Shadow Minister (Health)

First, the hon. Lady is right. Information is critical and it is fundamentally important to enable it to be accessed and understood by those for whom it is intended.

Clause 5(1)(a) states:

“to provide, in prescribed circumstances and in a prescribed manner, prescribed health information to persons who are using or may seek to use a sunbed”.

Will the Minister say who will be doing the prescribing?

Secondly, in respect of subsections (2) and (3), I should like to understand how the health information will relate to the Advertising Standards Authority, which claims that it already has in place standards and regulations that would override any false information being disseminated to the public. The Committee may well be aware that when the issue was raised on Second Reading, the Advertising Standards Authority had written to all hon. Members. It stated in that letter that the advertising code already reflects the UK law that covers misleading or unfair advertising. Is it proposed that subsections (2) and (3) should override the law that already covers the Advertising Standards Authority? If not, how will the two be juxtaposed?

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Conservative, Worthing West

May I follow my hon. Friend and say that I am glad we are now moving from proscription to prescription? I hope that the hon. Member for Cardiff, North and the Minister might be able to say that part of the reason for the regulations is that if people are advertising in a way that is likely to attract the attention and interest of people under the age of 18, it would be highly undesirable. The information that should be prescribed could be put forward either by the Government or a Government-recognised body. Alternatively, it could  be put forward by recognised operators of sunbeds who can agree with the Government and the medical professions what would be sensible information to prescribe. It is perfectly reasonable for the advertising standards people to maintain, quite correctly, that they can prevent wrong advertising, but I am not sure that they can require that the right information is given. That is probably the gap that the Bill properly identifies.

Photo of Gillian Merron Gillian Merron Minister of State (Public Health), Department of Health

All sunbed users need to be aware of the health risks, which means that those who are over 18 also need to be aware of them. It is right that we have regulations to ensure that accurate information is, in a positive sense, available to users, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Worthing, West. I certainly share the view already expressed that users should not be misled by information relating to the so-called health effects of using sunbeds. Regulations that will prevent non-prescribed information from being available to sunbed users are, indeed, necessary.

We will consult on that because, although we welcome the provisions, they will, nevertheless, impose certain additional regulatory burdens on sunbed businesses. There will be full consultation on the provisions with interested parties, including representatives of the industry and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. It is intended that those discussions will take place in the period between the legislation being passed, as we hope it will be, and its coming into force.

On the question of who prescribes, it will be a matter for the Secretary of State to prescribe in his regulations, obviously following the consultation. On the important matter of co-ordination with the Advertising Standards Authority, we in the Department of Health will have discussions with BIS and the ASA to ensure that there is no duplication. For the reasons outlined by the hon. Member for Worthing, West, we quite properly feel that this is about prescribing what should be provided, rather than what should not be provided. I hope the Committee will support the clause.

Photo of Julie Morgan Julie Morgan Labour, Cardiff North

Again, important points have been raised. It is important to remember that the Advertising Standards Authority can only investigate complaints. Obviously, there have been some complaints, which it has investigated. It is crucial to have clear, accurate and consistent information throughout the country. I think the Minister has already said that the provision will be consulted on before it happens.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 5 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.