September 23, 2013 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 2Comment

Reducing the risk of skin cancer and higher penalties for violence against emergency room personnel were addressed this year in Texas’ legislative session.  These public health topics not only received attention from lawmakers, they resulted in two new state laws which take effect this month.

Assaults and fatal injuries suffered by healthcare workers is a nationwide and global problem.  The Emergency Nurses Association notes that the healthcare industry leads all others in the incidence of nonfatal occupational assaults.  One recent study published in the Journal of Nursing Administration reported survey results from more than 3,400 registered nurses.  About 25 percent of the nurses reported experiencing physical violence more than 20 times in the past three years.

In Texas, it was a felony to assault firefighters and other emergency service personnel during emergency situations.  Inside a hospital emergency department, however, assaulting a healthcare provider or other staff was only classified as a misdemeanor.   HB 705, introduced by Donna Howard (D-Austin) expands the definition of emergency service personnel to include individuals who work in emergency departments.  The bill passed unanimously in both the Texas House and Senate.  Ms. Toni Inglis, a retired intensive care nurse who regularly contributes commentaries for the Austin American Statesman explains the law is a good first step, but not a panacea.

“Will the stiffer penalty make ERs safer?  The research is inconclusive on deterrence.  What the law does do is tell the public that assaults in hospital emergency departments will not be tolerated.  It reinforces the standard that violence is not part of the job.  And it says to nurses and other ER staff that the state believes that they are as valuable as peace officers, firefighters and EMTs.”

Texas becomes the 26 state with improved laws to address on-the-job violence suffered by healthcare workers.

The other Texas law taking effect this month involves tanning salons.  SB 329, introduced by Joan Huffman (R-Houston), prohibits businesses with tanning beds or other UV tanning devices from allowing anyone younger than 18 years to use the equipment.  The laws purpose is to reduce the user’s risk of skin cancer.  The data is unequivocal.  Using tanning beds and lamps are associated with a significant increased risk of melanoma, as well as basal and squamous cell carcinoma.  A synopsis of the evidence assembled by the Skin Cancer Foundation offers examples, such as:

  • Just one indoor tanning session increases users’ chances of developing melanoma by 20 percent, and each additional session during the same year boosts the risk almost another two percent (here).
  • Among people ages 18 to 29 who have ever used a tanning bed and were diagnosed with melanoma, 76 percent of those melanoma cases were attributable to tanning bed use (here).
  • People who tan indoors just four times per year increase their risk of basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma by 15 percent (here).
  • Six tanning sessions per year during high school or college boosts increases the risk of basal cell carcinoma by 73 percent (here).
  • People who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by 75 percent (here).

The Texas Tribune’s Michael Stravato reported on a 41 year-old Houston, TX resident who was diagnosed with melanoma in 2008.  Cheri Huber was 16 years old when she started going to a tanning salon three times a week.   In the late 1980’s, “there were tanning businesses everywhere,” Huber said.

CDC researchers published an analysis in August 2013 on the prevalence of indoor tanning among high school and 18-34 year old white, non-Hispanic women.  Using the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, nearly 30 percent of the high school age respondents reported using indoor tanning equipment at least 10 times in the previous 12 months.

As one young melanoma victim living in Australia said, “no tan is worth dying for.”



2 thoughts on “New Texas laws tackle two public health problems

  1. Excellent news, and all the more so because it’s Texas, whose State Board of Ed does the state’s reputation no good. Texas gets high points for “reason wins” for passing both of these.

    Re. tanning beds: with those stats, it should be possible to outlaw them entirely. Think “bath salts in a box,” as in, what would the regulatory outcome have been if this was a pill or something people snorted?

  2. This is good news! And I hope within a year or two Texas will also be adopting the ACA Medicaid expansion, helping 1.3 million low-income Texans get healthcare coverage.

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