BBB National Programs Archive

NAD Examines Advertising From Indoor Tanning Association

New York, NY – Nov. 3, 2008 – The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus has recommended that the Indoor Tanning Association discontinue advertising that suggests tanning or sunbathing is necessary to achieve natural production of Vitamin D or conveys the unsupported message that that there is no evidence linking tanning to the development of cancer.

NAD, the advertising industry’s self-regulatory forum, requested substantiation for certain health and safety claims made by the Indoor Tanning Association in print and Website advertising.  The advertiser, in a full-page newspaper advertisement, made the following express claims:

  • “Recent research indicates that the benefits of moderate exposure to sunlight outweigh the hypothetical risks.  Surprisingly, there is no compelling scientific evidence that tanning causes melanoma.  Scientists have proven, however, that the exposure to all forms of ultraviolet light – both indoors and out – stimulates the natural production of Vitamin D. And research has shown that vitamin D protects against many types of cancer, in addition to providing other important health benefits.”
  • “It’s time to rethink sunbathing.”

In response to NAD’s request for substantiation, the association submitted three articles from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America, the National Health Institutes and the New England Journal of Medicine, that address the benefits of vitamin D on human health.

NAD noted that each of the articles, while addressing the importance of vitamin D and role of sunlight in the production of vitamin D, warned against the role of UV radiation in producing certain cancers.

NAD noted that it is “appreciative of the challenges facing advertisers in communicating what is often complex scientific information in relatively brief advertising messages” and  “recognized that there is an honest scientific debate … regarding vitamin D deficiency and sun exposure.”

However, NAD stated, the challenged advertising overstates the benefits of vitamin D obtained through sun exposure and dismisses as hype the well-established causal relationship between ultraviolet light exposure and the development of skin cancer.

NAD found that the advertiser’s evidence was insufficient to substantiate its claims that the link between sunbathing and skin cancer is “hype,” or “hypothetical” or the claim that there is a lack of “compelling scientific evidence” linking sun tanning to the development of melanoma. 

Given the absence of competent and reliable scientific evidence supporting the advertiser’s claims, NAD recommended that the advertiser discontinue the express and implied claims at issue.

In its advertiser’s statement, the Indoor Tanning Association noted that it “objects to NAD’s attempted intrusion into this scientific debate and, while it has no plans to run the ‘Tanning Causes Melanoma: Hype’ piece that is the particular focus of the NAD in any national publication in the future, it shall continue to engage in this important debate.”