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Arsenic. Mustard gas. Tanning beds?

Tanning beds are hazardous to your health. Photo Duluth News Tribune

International cancer experts have moved tanning beds and other sources of ultraviolet radiation into the top cancer risk category, deeming them as deadly as arsenic and mustard gas.

For years, scientists have described tanning beds and ultraviolet radiation as "probable carcinogens."

A new analysis of about 20 studies concludes the risk of skin cancer jumps by 75 percent when people start using tanning beds before age 30. Experts also found that all types of ultraviolet radiation caused worrying mutations in mice, proof the radiation is carcinogenic. Previously, only one type of ultraviolet radiation was thought to be lethal.

Dawn Johnson, owner of three Twin Ports tanning salons, disputed the study's findings.

"You have got to look at what has happened to our ozone layer," said Johnson, owner of two A.J.'s Tanning Salons and the Mt. Royal Tanning Salon. "How do they directly correlate cancer to tanning beds? ... They can put studies out every year, but there are a lot of variables."

Johnson said tanning beds, while used in moderation, can limit people's chances of burning under the sun.

The study said the new classification means tanning beds and other sources of ultraviolet radiation are definite causes of cancer, alongside tobacco, the hepatitis B virus and chimney sweeping, among other causes.

The research was published online in the medical journal Lancet Oncology on Wednesday, by experts at the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, the cancer arm of the World Health Organization.

"People need to be reminded of the risks of sunbeds," said Vincent Cogliano, one of the cancer researchers. "We hope the prevailing culture will change so teens don't think they need to use sunbeds to get a tan."

College students in Duluth make up 75 percent of the clientele at the Mt. Royal Tanning Salon, manager Cindy Koch said.

"We will definitely learn more about it. We want to be in the know," Koch said. "We aren't out to give people cancer."

The study said most lights used in tanning beds give off mainly ultraviolet radiation, which cause skin and eye cancer, according to the International Agency for Cancer Research.

The classification of tanning beds as carcinogenic was disputed by Kathy Banks, chief executive of The Sunbed Association, a European trade association of tanning bed makers and operators.

"The fact that is continuously ignored is that there is no proven link between the responsible use of sunbeds and skin cancer," Banks said in a statement. She said most users of tanning beds use them less than 20 times a year.

But as use of tanning beds has increased among people under 30, doctors have seen a parallel rise in the numbers of young people with skin cancer. In Britain, melanoma, the deadliest kind of skin cancer, is now the leading cancer diagnosed in women in their 20s.

Previous studies found younger people who regularly use tanning beds are eight times more likely to get melanoma than people who have never used them. In the past, WHO warned people younger than 18 to stay away from tanning beds.

Cogliano cautioned that ultraviolet radiation is not healthy, whether it comes from a tanning bed or from the sun.