University of Louisville – Shame on YOU!

March 23, 2015
Sharon Marston

University and Tanning Salonsuniversity-of-louisville-kentucky

In 2008, Sun Tan City, a chain of tanning salons based out of Elizabethtown, Ky., gave $3 million to the University of Louisville for the expansion of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

As a result of the financial support bestowed upon the university by this local business, Sun Tan City became a partner of Louisville Athletics with advertisements at university sporting events.

Furthermore, in their role as the “Official Tanning Center” for the University of Louisville Spirit Squad, members of both the Louisville cheerleading team as well the Lady Birds are allowed to use Sun Tan City services free of charge.

It is easy to understand how a $3 million donation benefits the University of Louisville. It is also easy to understand how Sun Tan City would benefit from the publicity that comes with a being a sponsor of a Division I school that frequently commands attention on the national stage.

However, what is not clear is how the community at large and the students of the university benefit from the promotion of a service that has been directly implicated as the single most influential cause for the rise of melanoma in young people today.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, even minimal use of tanning beds before the age of 35 can increase one’s risk of developing Melanoma by 59 percent. Furthermore, indoor tanners are 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma than non-indoor tanners.

In a recent article published in JAMA Dermatology, medical researchers found that nearly half of all universities in the country have tanning beds on campus or in off-campus housing. Furthermore, the study found when off-campus housing provided the use of a tanning bed, the use of the service was at no charge to the tenants. These are startling statistics when one considers the fact that more people develop skin cancer because of tanning than develop lung cancer because of smoking.


Universities are places of higher learning. With this position comes a great responsibility of the institution to promote the health and well-being of the local citizens as well as its students. This responsibility is probably best portrayed in the widespread adoption of “tobacco-free” campuses all across the country. If the use of tobacco and its future risk of cancer and heart disease are deemed worthy of a prohibition on college campuses, why not also ban the use of tanning beds for the added risk of skin cancer that they inherently pose?

The relationship between the University of Louisville and Sun Tan city is an uneasy dilemma. On one hand, the millions of dollars in donations have helped the university expand and become one of one of the top college choices for prospective students all over the country. On the other hand, by accepting money from a business that provides a service with proven detriments to the users’ health, the university is shirking its responsibility to the community and students who trust the inherent wisdom of the institution. How comfortable would we be seeing signs for Lucky Strike in the end-zone of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium or knowing that Pall Mall was the official sponsor of the Louisville Cheerleading squad and Lady Birds?

This is a complicated issue that needs to be addressed by the University of Louisville and the community. The health risks of tanning beds have been studied extensively for years by academic institutions all over the world and the correlation with their use and the rise of skin cancers amongst young people is irrefutable.

The University of Louisville has a unique opportunity to stand-up for what is best for the community and its students by ending its relationship with Sun Tan City and imposing a ban on any current and future use of tanning beds on campus and in any off-campus housing.

Furthermore, the University of Louisville could take an even stronger stand and actively encourage all its students to not use indoor tanning services and promote the use of sunscreen and safe tanning alternatives such as “spray-on tans.”

The conversation has begun and the time for action is now!

Author: Jonathan Banta, Special to The Courier-Journal 11:39 p.m. EDT March 23, 2015

Jonathan Banta

Jonathan Banta is a Louisville native and fourth-year medical student at the University of Louisville School of Medicine.