Only the state of California currently bans minors from using tanning booths. Many states require parental consent for those under 18 wishing to use tanning facilities. Rhode Island now requires a parent to give permission in person.
Salon owners have urged lawmakers to defeat what they say is a potentially business-killing proposition. Paula Moran, a manager at Le Soleil Tanning in Pawtucket, said the current rules work just fine. She's worked at the salon for 20 years.
Moran said minors make up about 20 percent of her salon business. She said most teens only use the salon once or twice a year, before the winter high school dance or the prom later in the spring, she said. They don't have the money to tan more often than that, she said.
"But 20 percent of our business in a recessed economy, that's going to be a big hurt for a small industry," she said.
The proposal passed the Senate on a 26-8 vote. It passed the Senate last year but not the House, where a version of the legislation is currently pending a hearing in the House health committee. If approved, the restrictions would go into effect Jan. 1.
Legislative opponents predicted the measure will again run into opposition from lawmakers wary of passing legislation that could hurt local businesses.
"It's too much regulation and our laws are too voluminous as is," said Sen. Glenford Shibley, a Coventry Republican. "I understand the health concerns, but if it's that bad, the FDA should do something."
Moran predicts that if Rhode Island adopts the restrictions, minors will use fake identification to convince salon owners that they're over 18 or they'll head to salons in nearby Massachusetts. That state allows minors to tan with a parent's permission.
"As soon as you tell a teenager they can't do something, they'll find a way," she said.
Count 18-year-old Rachel Sanzi as a supporter of the proposal. The Johnston resident said she visited tanning salons in high school but now understands that artificial tanning can increase cancer risks.
"You'd see 15, 16, 17-year-olds coming in all the time," she told The Associated Press while she was shopping Tuesday in downtown Providence with friend Caitlyn Capparelli. "You don't know what you're doing to your body when you're that young."
But Capparelli sees the other side of the debate. She said she thinks parents are in the best position to decide whether their underage children should visit a salon.
"I think it's a bad idea," said the 19-year-old, also from Johnston. "Think about all the little tanning salons that could go out of business."