Sunbed salons are fined for letting 15-year-old girl use cancer-linked machines during city council sting
Sunbed operators have been warned to abide by the law after three tanning salons were fined for allowing a 15-year-old girl to use their facilities.
The shops were issued with fixed penalty notices of £250 following a test purchasing exercise conducted by Belfast City Council investigators on 10 businesses in the city last week.
At the three fined salons, staff sold a session to the under-age girl without asking for identification or verifying her age.
The law states that nobody under the age of 18 should be allowed access to commercial sunbeds.
The names and locations of the businesses have been withheld by the council pending potential appeal of the fines.
Under the Sunbeds Act (NI) 2011, it is illegal to allow a person under the age of 18 to use a sunbed on sunbed premises. The only exemption is if it is prescribed medical treatment.
According to the Act, the owner must ask a customer they suspect of being younger than 18 for a passport, driving licence or EU photocard as proof of their age.
A spokeswoman said that the council was alerting the public to the cases to raise awareness of the law regulating sunbed use.
"It's important to raise awareness of this legislation, which has been in place since May 2012," she added.
"Sunbeds are commonly used throughout Northern Ireland and have become increasingly popular since the 1990s.
"Modern sunbeds work by exposing the user to UV radiation, which can be the equivalent of Mediterranean sunlight at midday in August.
"The new law was introduced because of the growing evidence of the health risks associated with sunbed use - including skin cancer - with young people at particular risk.
"It's vitally important that people are aware of the risks associated with sunbed use, and it's also important that businesses understand the law."
Last month, a report presented to the annual conference of the British Association of Dermatologists found that children as young as seven had been found to be using sunbeds.
The research, involving 755 secondary school pupils from across Ireland, also discovered that the average age of sunbed users was just 16.2 years, with the average age of first sunbed use being an even younger 12.9 years.
The association backs the total sunbed ban for under 18s and also recommends a licensing system for salons because it says that fines are not an effective enough deterrent, given the potential profit for operators.
DUP councillor Aileen Graham welcomed the fines and said that young people needed to be protected from the possible risks posed by the use of sunbeds. "I agree with the fine - they should not be doing this," added the Lisnasharragh representative. "Sunbeds can be very dangerous, especially if they are misused by that (young) age group."
Ms Graham also said that she would happily support the introduction of a licensing system, as proposed by the British Association of Dermatologists. "I would certainly support that scheme," she added. "There needs to be more control on sunbeds. It shouldn't be left to salons
"This was a set-up case which proves it, but how many others have been allowed to go through which we don't know anything about?"
A review by the International Agency for Research on Cancer found that people who were first exposed to sunbeds before the age of 35 had a 75% higher chance of developing melanoma skin cancers.