The Siren Call of Government Intervention

birds in sky

I could be wrong, but I think many of us think that there is too much government intrusion in our lives. Maybe some think taxes are too high (I am ok with them, understanding it is a small—well, not so small—price to pay for the privilege of living and raising a family in this great country). Many of us probably think that government should be less intrusive with regard to professional reaccreditation. We all probably think government is too involved in regulating medical practice.  

We probably are more than a little annoyed at the folks who promote government intrusion in our personal and professional lives. What gives them the audacity to try to use the force of government to control our lives so much? Well, if you want to answer that question, just look in the mirror if you are one of those dermatologists trying to get the government to stiffen tanning regulations.

Perhaps you think you know better than the folks doing the tanning. Perhaps you think it is reasonable for the government to enforce your standards and beliefs regarding tanning on other people. Perhaps it is a knee-jerk reflex to think that government should step in and “help” whenever it seems that it might be beneficial, particularly when it may “help protect children.” Now you understand why we have so many government regulations affecting our lives.

Your heart is in the best place, of course, hoping to prevent death and disfigurement from cancer. There is no question that UV exposure/tanning causes basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. It may increase melanoma risk, too, though the data are not quite so certain. Perhaps you think government regulation is appropriate when it will save people’s lives. Will stopping teenagers from tanning commercially increase their life expectancy? We have no data saying it would (there is even some evidence that UV exposure is associated with lower blood pressure and lower mortality).

The bottom line is that while I know UV causes skin cancer, I do not know what the net effect is of UV on the life expectancy of the population. I do not know if government regulations on tanning really will, on average, help or hurt people over the course of their lifetime. And even if I knew it would help, I would be reticent about trying to use the government to force changes in other people’s lives. I have felt the effects of government intervention, and I would be loath to encourage more of it unless absolutely necessary. 


Steven R. Feldman, MD, PhD

Chief Medical Editor


Dr Feldman is with the Center for Dermatology Research and the Departments ofDermatology, Pathology, and Public Health Sciences at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, NC.