Soaking up artificial rays now costs more

Published 6:36 pm Thursday, July 1, 2010

She’s a “big-time tanner,” obsessed with the sun andstrobes.

Enterprise’s Kelly Allen crisps herself in the white light ofday and the blue glow of the tanning bed almost daily, neverletting the golden tone of her skin lighten up. The 45-year-oldBrookhaven Academy teacher uses the services of Brookhaven’s SuntanDepot, purchasing the $75 tanning package that allows her and twoteenage daughters to soak up the artificial rays 30 times beforethe deal runs out.

Beginning Thursday, Allen’s price will go to $82.50. That’s theadjusted rate after a federal 10 percent excise tax on all indoortanning services goes into effect, one of the first of new taxesand tax increases mandated by the new national health care law.

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Allen’s not happy about it, but she’ll pay.

“I’m very upset, but I’m going to go to the sun tan bed nomatter how much it costs,” Allen said. “It’s not going to help forthose who are obsessed. The only thing I might do is go one timeless per month to make it last longer.”

The extra dough Allen and other tanning bed-worshippers aroundthe country will begin coughing up today are expected to generate$2.7 billion over the next 10 years, enough to pay for less than 1percent of the $940 billion Patient Protection and Affordable CareAct, spurred into law by President Barack Obama and aDemocratic-led Congress in March.

According to a tip sheet published by the Internal RevenueService, tanning customers will pay the 10 percent tax at the timeof tanning, and tanning businesses will be responsible for coveringthe tax if it fails to collect. Salons and tanning bed operatorsare subject to the tax, but membership-based fitness centers thatoffer tanning as a side service will be exempt.

Tanning taxes are to be paid directly to the federal governmenton a quarterly basis.

On the face of it, it seems to be the perfect tax. Tanning bedfrequenters will have to fork out only a few more dollars – likelynot enough to make them abstain from tanning – and tanning bedowners won’t have to pay anything; they’ll just have tocollect.

But is it fair?

“If you’re going to increase taxes, increase sales tax,” Allensaid. “That way, everyone is affected. Every single person payssales taxes. Not everyone tans.”

Tonya Cain agreed. The 44-year-old Brookhavenite called the taxunfair, but she’ll bear it and grin.

“I’m going to pay it and be mad about it,” she said. “But Idon’t think it’s right. There’s a lot of other things in thiscountry that need more attention than tanning beds.”

Brookhaven’s Jessica Adams is also miffed about the tanningtax.

The 21-year-old once worked at a tanning salon. Her anger is notbecause of what the tax will add, but because of what it might takeaway.

“Tanning is all some mothers do for themselves, and they have tosave up for that,” Adams said. “When they’ve got three or four kidsto take care of, sometimes that 20 minutes in the tanning bed isthe only break they get.”

Auburn’s Chasity Wall, 35, is one of those moms.

“The tax isn’t going to stop me from tanning because it’s quickand easy, especially when you’ve got kids,” she said. “Do I thinkit’s fair? No. But I’ll tan every day once school starts.”

The implementation of the tanning tax pleased some healthgroups, like the Skin Cancer Society, which is mightily opposed toindoor tanning. But Beth Regouffre, owner of Sunlights andHighlights, called foul on the perception that tanning beds are 100percent hazardous.

“There are so many forms of cancer, and just one comes fromtanning exposure,” she said. “I have a lot of men who come in withback pain, and the heat of the tanning bed relieves the pain.”

Melva Crane, owner of Crane’s 550 Grocery, said the tanning taxmay do some good if raising money is its only goal.

She estimated her 35 regular tanners will produce about $125 permonth, or $1,500 per year. Multiplied out by the thousands oftanning salons in America, that’s a pretty good chunk ofchange.

But if the tax is meant to deter tanning, decrease theoccurrence of skin cancer and improve the nation’s health? It’stoast.

“It’s unfair, but it’s not going to slow down my tanners,” Cranesaid. “They’re going to pay the tax and keep on tanninganyway.”