Teens will go undercover to test if salons break age law on sunbed use
Undercover teens will be sent on covert sting operations into tanning salons across the country in a bid to clamp down on the use of sunbeds by children.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar has announced new guidelines which will allow the HSE's Environmental Health Services to send youngsters aged between 15 and 17 into businesses to try and purchase sunbed sessions.
Legislation banning the use of sunbeds by anyone under 18 years of age came into effect in 2014.
Last month, the Government announced new regulations which prohibit minimum time promotions by tanning salons.
However, despite the moves, a shocking study last month showed children as young as 12 continue to use sunbeds which are considered a group 1 carcinogen.
The findings, compiled by researchers from the Mater, Sligo Regional, and Cork University hospitals, found the average age of tanners was just over 16 years old. It also showed that the average first-time experience was just under 13 years old.
Mr Varadkar said the new protocols will add to the Environmental Health Service's arsenal when it comes to tackling the problem of underage sunbed use.
"With the commencement of the test purchasing programme, the HSE will have an extra tool in their overall enforcement programme to combat the sale, use or hire of sunbeds to minors," he said.
"These test purchase guidelines are intended to help enforce the Public Health (Sunbeds) Act and protect young people from the dangers associated with the use of sunbeds," he added.
Mr Varadkar stressed the objective of the programme was not to trap businesses into supplying services to minors. He insisted that the intention of the scheme is "to ascertain whether a sunbed business is complying with the law".
"In this regard, the test purchaser must answer all questions about their age truthfully."
The Irish Cancer Society yesterday welcomed the news and said it was "confident" that it would aid in tackling the issue of sunbed use by minors.
Health experts warn that just 20 minutes on a sunbed is the equivalent to over four hours in strong sunlight.
Similar test purchase programmes are currently in place for the sale of alcohol and tobacco.
The HSE's regional chief environmental health officer, Dr Maurice Mulcahy, said: "It is essential that individuals supervising the use of sunbeds verify the age of customers to ensure they are over the age limit of 18 years old. This can be done quite simply by checking such documents as age cards, passports or driving licences."