Burning sensation – Tanning salons are hardly glowing about federal health care bill’s 10 percent tax

The soft-glow of blue ultraviolet bulbs, the smell of tropical moisturizing lotions and the sounds of peppy pop music all mean business at Revere’s many indoor tanning salons – a thriving core of the city’s small business community.

And it’s just that large industry here that is getting burnt by the federal government’s new Health Care Reform Bill.

Much to the chagrin of salon owners in Revere and all over the country, the recently passed federal health care bill contains a new 10 percent tax on each and every visit to a tanning salon starting July 1. That means that tanning packages that were $80 would now come in at $88 in order to help pay for the sweeping health care bill.

And not only that, the tax was ushered in amidst what many tanning advocates believe is fear-mongering language. The bill, in fact, levies the tax in order to drive people away from indoor tanning because many in the federal government, specifically the Food and Drug Administration, believe that it isn’t safe – a widely disputed claim amongst salon owners and their loyal customers.

“When you overdo anything, it’s dangerous,” said Tina Baressi, co-owner of Revere Tanning on American Legion Highway. “There are some salons that don’t do it right. It’s up to us to educate people, though, not to scare them inside…More people get skin cancer from being in the Sun. Is the government going to go down to the Beach on a hot, sunny day and tell everyone to go home?”

Lynda Green, a customer at Planet Sun on Broadway and a Revere resident, said that she did not agree with the new tax – saying that she has tanned all her adult life and never had a problem.

“I’ve tanned for 26 years and never had a problem,” she said. “The only time I ever had a problem was when I was in the sun and got burned…I think [this tax] is crazy and a gimmick. I won’t stop tanning because of an extra tax, but it’s all political just like everything else.”

Joshua Miller, district manager of Darque Tan on American Legion Highway, said his company expects business to decrease.

“For business purposes, it definitely will slow business down for a lot of tanning business owners, but really the biggest problem is that it’s going to deter people from going tanning because [the bill] insinuates that tanning is bad for you,” he said.

Miller said the belief that tanning is dangerous goes back to a World Health Organization (WHO) study that came out last year and declared indoor tanning to be unhealthy. However, Miller said that while the study cited huge increases in malignant melanoma, it didn’t indicate that the actual numbers were very small.

“We’re taking it going from one-tenth of one percent to one-seventh of one percent,” he said. “This happened because we are an easy target because of this study and a lot of politicians don’t read these studies carefully.”

He also said that many owners believe politics was at play due to the fact that the tax was originally supposed to be on the highly lucrative plastic surgery and Botox injection industry. In the last several months, it got switched to the ‘Tan Tax.’

“This tax on us is not sustainable,” he said. “A 10 percent tax increase is just not sustainable by a small business at all – as opposed to the multi-billion dollar Botox industry that could afford it. But the more money you have, the more you can lobby to get what you want.”

Baressi said that not only was the tax highly political, but also she felt it discriminated against women. “It’s discriminatory towards women because 75 percent of salons across the country are owned by women and 75 percent of their customers are women,” she said. “Many of the employees at these salons are also women and young women. They really socked it to women on this. They targeted one demographic and one service…Why not nails, hair and waxing too?”

Added Miller, “It very much singled us out and was an attack on a small niche industry that’s mainly run by female small business owners and used by women.”

The Indoor Tanning Association (ITA) has gone so far as to say the tax is a direct contradiction to President Barack Obama’s pledge not to raise taxes on the middle class – the industry’s bread and butter customer base.

Even so, it will be the hit to the pocketbook that owners and customers are most disheartened by.

Baressi pointed out that 10 percent is a huge tax to drop on one industry overnight. More than anything, she said that increasing prices in a bad economy would drive customers away or cause them to spend less.

“It would definitely decrease business because we’re a luxury,” she said. “Some people will have to have their tan, but they’ll choose a lower-priced package and come less frequently. It costs so much money to run this business. When you open a salon, it takes hundreds of thousands of dollars to get started up and electricity isn’t cheap. If people come in and choose lower-end packages, that has an effect on the bottom line. We’re a big enough company to work through that, but a smaller salon with one location may not be able to withstand that, especially in this economy.”

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