In the ongoing Republican fight to craft a health care bill that will earn enough votes to roll back significant portions of Obamacare, a surprising victor has emerged: the tanning bed. Back in 2010, President Obama added a 10 percent tax on the tanning industry a part of his Affordable Care Act, citing health concerns linking harmful UV rays to cancer. Both drafts of the Senate GOP's unpopular bill, as well as the one passed by the House of Representatives, peel away that seven-year-old tax on tanning. While salon owners' are thrilled, critics are confused about Republicans' priorities.
"The industry has been hit really hard year in the last seven to eight years," John Overstreet, executive director of the Indoor Tanning Association tells Bustle. "We think it's about half the size that it was in 2009."
"I don't go tanning-tanning anymore because Obama put a 10 percent tax on tanning."
Indoor tanning among high schoolers has dropped nearly in half the past few years, from 16.3 percent in 2009 to just 7.3 percent in 2015, according to The New York Times — a decline tanning industry representatives attribute to the tax and the economic downturn after 2008.
The tanning tax even caught the attention of Jersey Shore star Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, who made her displeasure known on camera.
"I don't go tanning-tanning anymore because Obama put a 10 percent tax on tanning ... and I feel like he did that intentionally for us," Snooki said during a 2010 taping of Jersey Shore, adding that Obama's 2008 presidential rival, John McCain, wouldn't tax indoor tanning "because he's pale, so he'd probably want to be tan." McCain, who's openly battled skin cancer, took the bait:
For his part, President Obama jokingly exempted Snooki (along with fellow housemates J-WOWW and The Situation) from paying the indoor tanning tax during a speech at the 2010 White House Correspondents Association dinner:
This next provision is called the Jersey Shore-Up. It reads: "The following individuals shall be excluded from the indoor tanning tax within this bill: Snooki, J-WOWW, the Situation, and House Minority Leader John Boehner."
The research isn't conclusive as to whether the tax is keeping people from frequenting tanning salons. Proponents of the tax often cite taxes on tobacco as a model, saying they work as a deterrent and can play a beneficial role in public health. The more cigarettes cost, the less people smoke, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
"There's absolutely no comparison between UV light and tobacco smoke," Overstreet says. "For us, it's not a Democratic or Republican issue. It's an issue of an unfair tax, and the industry will gladly work with anyone who's willing to get rid of the tax."
DeAnn Lazovich, associate professor at the University of Minnesota, tells Bustle that the comparison to cigarettes makes sense. Lazovich is a leading researcher on cancer-related risk factors, including sun exposure.
"The more you tan, the greater the risk. I'm not sure why anybody would want to put themselves at risk for getting melanoma, which is a highly preventable cancer," Lazovich says. "It seems to me that the kinds of changes that are being proposed are going to be far more detrimental to people than whether or not they include a tanning tax."
As lawmakers are shifting cash between Medicaid spending, opioid addiction treatment, and stemming the rate of government spending, experts like Lazovich don't understand why the proposed drafts of the bill cut the tanning industry such a break.
Matt Fielder, a fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution, tells Bustle the tanning tax was included in the Affordable Care Act as a way to raise revenue to offset increased health care spending.
"If you were to stand alone repeal the medical device tax, say, nothing happens. It's not like the money flows directly from there to finance Medicaid expansion or to finance tax credits," Fielder says. "The trade-off here between these tax cuts in the bill and the cuts that the bill is making to programs that provide health insurance coverage are very direct and very stark."
Score one for Snooki?