Sunbed Campaign 2017
August 30, 2017

Irish Cancer Society survey shows significant increase in use of sunbeds among young people

Charity calls on Government to address ‘bizarre anomaly’ and raise VAT rate on sunbed sessions

More young people are using sunbeds and people in Ireland are using sunbeds with alarming regularity, even though they are aware of the dangers, according to a new survey commissioned by the Irish Cancer Society.

This comes despite the news that overall sunbed use has decreased dramatically from 9% of the Irish population in 2003 to 4% in 2017.

The results of Irish Cancer Society IPSOS MRBI 2017 poll show:

  • 4% of people in Ireland have used a sunbed in the past year compared with 4% in 2010 and 9% in 2003;
  • 8% of 15-24 year olds; 9% of 25-34 year olds; 2% of 35-44 year olds; and 1% of 45-54 year olds have used a sunbed in the past year.
  • In the Society’s 2010 survey, 5% of 15-24 year olds had used a sunbed; 4% of 25-34 year olds; 5% of 35-49 year olds and 2% of 50-64 year olds.

As an initial step to help decrease use among young people, the Society is calling on Government to increase the VAT rate on sunbed sessions from the current reduced rate of 13.5% to the standard VAT rate of 23%.

Donal Buggy, Head of Advocacy and Services at the Irish Cancer Society said: “It is time for Government to address the bizarre anomaly which currently sees VAT levied at a reduced rate on sunbed sessions, while VAT on sunscreen is charged at 23%.”

Currently, sunbeds sales see a reduced VAT rate of 13.5%, in the same category as yoga studios and beauty salons, despite the fact that sunbeds are placed in the highest cancer risk category, alongside tobacco and plutonium, by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). 

“We are calling on the Minister for Finance to increase VAT on sunbeds to 23% in Budget 2018, and we will be asking politicians to support our campaign in the run up to the Budget in October.”

Despite the decrease in overall sunbed use, the Society says the number of young people using sunbeds remains a concern. Mr.Buggy said: “While the Society would prefer no one uses a sunbed, we’re pleased to note that sunbed use is slowly decreasing. However, what we are seeing is that while fewer people over 35 are using sunbeds, more people in Ireland aged 15-34 are using sunbeds since our last survey in 2010. Our new poll shows 46,000 more people aged 15-34 using sunbeds than in 2010.” 

The Society says this is particularly worrying as young people are most at risk from the dangers of sunbeds. There is a 75% increased risk in the most serious form of skin cancer when people begin tanning regularly before the age of 35.

Mr. Buggy continued: “People in Ireland are using sunbeds with alarming regularity with 24% of sunbed users tanning once a week, and 51% using them at least every two months. Along with this, the age of first use is getting younger and our poll shows that 85% of Irish people who’ve used sunbeds first did so before the age of 24, compared to 63% in our 2010 survey. These are all very worrying trends.”

The Society believes a practical first step in discouraging sunbed use, particularly among younger people, is to increase the VAT rate on sunbed sessions from 13.5% to 23%.

Mr. Buggy said: “This is just a stepping stone, which will not only address a long-standing discrepancy where VAT on sunscreen is higher than sunbeds, but will increase price, which will act as a disincentive to sunbed use, particularly in the most price sensitive groups like young people. In the long-term we would like to see further exploration of a ban, or partial ban, on sunbeds, as Brazil and Australia have done. Given our rising skin cancer rates and our fair-skinned population, the Government should be considering a ban on commercial sunbed use.”

The Society’s survey showed that 9 in 10 people in Ireland aged 15-34 were aware of the risk between skin cancer and sunbed use. This reflects general awareness among the wider population with 92% aware of the link between skin cancer and sunbed use, and 80% believing it was high risk.

Mr. Buggy said: “While it’s good news that people in Ireland recognise the dangers of sunbeds, we need to do more to stop the 150,000 people in Ireland who used a sunbed in the past year from doing so. We have to act now to protect them from exposure to dangerous products that can, quite literally, scar them for life.”


For further information please contact:

Aishling Deegan, Senior Communications Officer, Irish Cancer Society 01 2310517 / 087 6453867