By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Health advocates gathered in the Mississippi Capitol on Wednesday, asking lawmakers to ban people younger than 18 from using tanning beds.
They say teenagers put themselves at risk of cancer while tanning for proms or other events.
The District of Columbia and 17 states, including Louisiana and Texas, have already enacted such a ban, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. This will be the fourth year for the American Cancer Society's lobbying group, Cancer Action Network, to push for one in Mississippi.
Katie Shepherd, a 39-year-old Leakesville resident, said she started using tanning beds in college. The mother of three said she was diagnosed with melanoma in 2014 and thinks there was a direct link between the tanning beds and her condition. She is now cancer-free.
"I wish with all my heart that I had never used a tanning bed because being tanned isn't worth your life," Shepherd said at the Capitol.
Current Mississippi law bans the use of tanning beds by anyone younger than 14. The law says people 14 to 18 must have written permission from a parent.
Several high school and college students pulled lawmakers aside in the marble hallways of the Capitol to lobby for a new minimum age of 18. Among them was Macken'z Smith, who wore the tiara she won when she was named Miss University of Southern Mississippi.
Smith said she was diagnosed with a genetic form of skin cancer when she was 12 and growing up in Philadelphia, Mississippi. She said many of her high school classmates used tanning beds, but she never did because of the fear that she would have a recurrence of cancer.
"As a girl in high school, I was so, so pale," Smith said. She said some people bullied her and called her "Casper."
Jeff Fehlis, executive vice president of American Cancer Society, said ultraviolet rays in tanning beds are particularly harmful to teenagers because their skin is still developing. He estimated that 690 people in Mississippi will be diagnosed this year with melanoma, which he called "the deadliest form of skin cancer."
"Adults who use indoor tanning devices before the age of 35 - their risk of getting melanoma increases by 59 percent," Fehlis said.
Some Mississippi lawmakers in the past have objected to putting additional regulations on private businesses, including stricter rules about who may use tanning beds.
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Photo: Rep. Missy McGee, R-Hattiesburg, left, speaks with American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network high school student representatives, including Khalil Jackson of St. Andrews Episcopal School, right, Marinee Humphries of Yazoo County High School , second from right, Carnielus Powers of Jackson Academy, center, Erykah Cain of Terry High School, third from left, and Gavin Collins of Terry High School, about their lobbying Mississippi lawmakers to ban people younger than 18 from using tanning beds, at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss., Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. The students say teenagers put themselves at risk of cancer while tanning for proms or other events. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)