PEOPLE who are exposed to sunbeds before their mid-30s have an 87pc higher risk of developing the most dangerous form of skin cancer.
The warning was sounded by the Environmental Health Officers Association, whose members will be responsible for policing proposed new legislation regulating tanning machines for the first time.
Chairwoman Caitriona Stack said the higher risk to sunbed users was highlighted in studies, increasing their chances of getting malignant melanoma.
Speaking at a conference, she pointed to the dangers of parents taking their child to a tanning salon before their Holy Communion. "It could be the start of a lifelong habit," she said.
Health Minister James Reilly told the conference that 150 people were dying from skin cancer in Ireland every year due to ultraviolet light from sun and sunbeds.
"It is preventable but there is a human and financial cost. It can cost €6,000 to €10,000 to treat a patient. New drug treatments are costing between €50,000 and €100,000," he added.
"If people feel that it is more of the nanny state, then I point to the statistics. There are more than 850 new cases of the cancer diagnosed each year, while it accounts for some 150 deaths annually. In 2011, more than 7,000 people suffered from skin cancer.
"While many people with this skin condition are winning the fight, too many are losing it.
"Increased education will make children aware of the dangers of sunbed use, and when they are over 18, they can make their own decisions."
The proposed law will control the sale or hire of sunbeds over the internet, and all operators will need to have trained staff.
Salons will be inspected by environmental health officers. Operators cannot claim health benefits, and there will be an obligation on all sunbed operators to provide protective eyewear.
Sunbed lamps are becoming more powerful, and the estimated cancer risk from sunbeds has trebled in the past 10 years. The average risk from sunbed use is now more than double that of spending the same amount of time in the midday Mediterranean sun without sun cream.
Recent research shows men are more likely to die from melanoma than women.
Research conducted by the Irish Cancer Society found that about 28,000 young people under the age of 25 are using sunbeds in Ireland each year. Two-thirds of sunbed users began using sunbeds when they were under 25.