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Salon owners wary of tanning tax that starts today

Aleah Gruhot cleans a tanning bed at East Side Beach on Wednesday afternoon. Starting today there will be a 10 percent tax on all tanning services. Herald photo by Sarah Kolberg.

If Susan Ostlund's lucky, the customers at her Grand Forks tanning salon will treat the federal tanning tax going into effect today the way most consumers treat price hikes at the gas pump: They'll be mad but they won't stop going.

"We're hoping that people get used to this 10 percent tax," said the 23-year owner of East Side Beach on Columbia Road. A month-long package costs $37 so the tax would just increase it by just $3.70, she said, but "you just don't know how people are going to take it."

The tax is part of the health care reform package Congress passed earlier this year.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the tax will raise $2.7 billion over 10 years, but the Indoor Tanning Association says the figure is "vastly overestimated."

The association says the tax will significantly harm tanning companies and jeopardize jobs. The industry employs more than 140,000 people, according to the association.

"Because tanning is something people do with disposable income, this industry has already been hit hard by the recession," the association stated in a news release.

But, like Ostlund, others in the tanning salon business in the Red River Valley aren't as pessimistic.

Roger Kotz, who manages Accent Tanning in Moorhead, said he doesn't expect to lose any of his regular customers. In fact, some of them bought extra tanning packages before July 1 to get in ahead of the tax.

But Kotz said he does think it will deter some newcomers.

Denise Rogers, who owns Sheyenne Salon & Tanning in West Fargo, said it's hard to say what kind of impact the tax might have.

"It'll probably end up like cigarettes where there are people who are not going to quit no matter what," she said. "There will be people who probably will back off."

Kotz said about 60 percent of his tanners are college students.

"Now they may be a little slower coming in because the college student is on a budget," he said. "When you increase (prices), then they have to start dropping things out that are the least important to them."

Not that the salon owners aren't upset.

Ostlund said the tax is "very prejudiced" toward salons because it exempts health clubs that include tanning as part of their services. It seems as if there's prejudice against indoor tanning in general, she said.

There's some cause for that because tanning is linked to skin cancer.

Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for 25- to 29-year-olds, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. First exposure to tanning beds in youth increases melanoma risk by 75 percent, the foundation stated.

Ostlund said there's a misperception that tanning salon customers all tan until they're fried. She's seen more people coming back from the lake sunburned, she said, while most of her customers go in a couple times a week for 10- to 15-minute sessions.

"Tanning is like everything else," she said. "You should use your head. You should tan in moderation."

The Skin Cancer Foundation, however, likens the tanning tax to cigarette taxes.

"The tax will hopefully serve a double purpose, not only raising billions for health care, but giving people one more reason to protect their health by staying away from tanning salons," Bruce Katz, educational spokesperson for The Skin Cancer Foundation, stated in a news release.