CHICAGO – As a young woman, Donna Moncivaiz would go to tanning salons looking for that perfect summer glow.
Now 51, Moncivaiz suffers from late-stage melanoma and says the cancer has spread to her lymph nodes, gall bladder, liver and brain. The Beach Park mother also allowed her daughter to tan and, at 25, she too was diagnosed with early-stage melanoma.
Doctors attribute both women's melanoma to tanning beds and time spent outside without sunscreen, and that's why Moncivaiz has been among the most vocal supporters of proposed legislation that Gov. Pat Quinn signed Thursday to ban indoor tanning in Illinois for anyone younger than 18.
"I don't want any mom to feel the guilt I feel, or go through what I'm going through," said Moncivaiz, who testified in favor of the bill during the spring legislative session.
Quinn signed the bill along with a measure that prohibits anyone under age 18 from smoking electronic cigarettes.
"I am signing these new laws today so that our youth and their families can be spared the consequences of very serious and preventable health problems that are caused by dangerous habits formed at a young age," Quinn said. "Together these measures will protect the health of Illinois youth and save lives in the long-run."
On the tanning issue, Quinn's decision meant he agreed with critics that the health concerns merit government prohibition, rather than merely leaving the choice of tanning to youths and their parents, as industry officials had argued as the legislation was debated by lawmakers.
Dr. Judy Knox, a dermatologist from Springfield, has long advocated for a teen tanning ban, saying sometimes parents don't know their kids are using tanning beds. She said ten sessions in a tanning bed doubles the risk for melanoma.
"The younger you are the more time you have then to develop that cancer," Knox said. "There's still a huge myth that people think a tan is healthy."
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization say natural and artificial ultraviolet radiation are cancer-causing substances, and in May the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a proposed order for stricter regulations on indoor tanning devices. The American Academy of Dermatology says minors shouldn't use indoor tanning equipment because overexposure to ultraviolet radiation can lead to skin cancer.
The new law bans teens from using equipment that emits ultraviolet radiation, including sun lamps and tanning booths. They also cannot use tanning beds that emit certain electromagnetic radiation wavelengths. The bill doesn't apply to devices used in private residences, phototherapy devices used by physicians or spray tans.
Some tanning industry officials say the focus of government intervention should be on teaching moderation and that it's unfair to blame salons for overexposure that might lead to cancer, warning that a teen tanning ban would damage business.
Nick Patel, CEO of Lincolnshire-based L.A. Tan, which has about 65 salons in Illinois, said he has closed a number of locations over the last 18 months and that the new law could mean more lost jobs. Patel said his employees are trained to coach customers to tan wisely.
"People just need to be educated more than anything else," he says.
The Indoor Tanning Association, which represents thousands of salon operators, contests the links between tanning and cancer.
"Proponents of these laws always exaggerate the risks of exposure to ultraviolet light in order to get the attention of the public, the media and the government," the ITA said in a May 2012 statement. The group supports parental or guardian consent for those under age 18 who want to tan.
Illinois law already banned tanning by anyone younger than 14 but had allowed minors between 14 and 17 to tan with parental permission. Salons that violate the rules can be fined $250. Teen tanning already was banned altogether in Chicago and Springfield, and sponsors said the new law will level the playing field for salons across the state.
Sen. Christine Radogno, a Lemont Republican, said she co-sponsored the bill as a mother of three daughters, one who worked in a salon. She said she hated it when her daughters would tan.
"We just have to make pale beautiful again," Radogno said.
For Moncivaiz, it's personal.
"I think the bill will save countless lives," she said.