Where the Sun Don't Shine
About 2/3 of melanomas are caused by exposure to UV radiation. Often the damage is done in the days of our youth, and only manifested later in life. So if people were very careful about their exposure to UV radiation we would see the death rate from melanoma drop by thousands of people each year.
For decades now people have worked to raise awareness of sun exposure. Small mom and pop groups have worked locally. Larger groups have impacted regions or even launched national campaigns. Messages have been placed in papers, on billboards, in taxis, in magazines. Somber faced television anchors have interviewed doctors, patients, celebrities about the devastation of melanoma before pasting on their smiley face and turning to the next boy bites dog story. Despite this, teenage girls use tanning lamps at an epidemic rate, and our society still identifies beauty and health with being tan.
How do we turn the corner on this? How do we shut down tanning salons by making them irrelevant to modern society? I wish I had the answer, but I don’t. Still, some things seem clear.
First, we must expend our limited resources on things that work. Non-profits are notorious for spending money on slick, glossy brochures stuffed with information we think is important. But we never evaluate the impact of those materials to determine if they are actually having on impact on healthcare behavior.
Second, we must work together. This doesn’t mean we all have the same message or the same materials. In fact, I think different--but parallel--messages and materials make the most sense. But we should ensure that our messages reinforce each other and create a backdrop of information and education.
Finally, we must keep working. I am amazed to see young men and women in their 20’s standing outside office buildings in the rain so they can smoke a cigarette. These are people whose grandparents knew that smoking was bad. They are third generation (at least) inheritors of anti-smoking messages. Does this mean those messages were a waste of time and energy? Not at all. In fact, hundreds of thousands of lives have been saved through anti-smoking campaigns. We must face the fact that we will never ever end tanning. But if we can change one person’s mind about entering a box surrounded by light bulbs emitting carcinogenic rays, then maybe the work will have been worthwhile.