Health-EU newsletter 186 - Focus

New Scientific Opinion concludes that there is no safe limit for UVR exposure from sunbeds


by Theo Vermeire, Chair of the Scientific Committee on Health, Environment and Emerging Risks (SCHEER)


The European Commission's Scientific Committees, including the Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks (SCHEER), work in the area of risk assessment. It is our task to review all the recent and relevant literature on a particular topic and to draw conclusions based on the scientific merit of studies conducted by reputable scientists.

Although our work can be highly technical and our members include top scientific experts from around the world, our work isn't meant to be academic and of interest only to our fellow scientists, but to be used to help protect the health and safety of European citizens.

The Opinion on the safety of UVR exposure from sunbeds used for cosmetic purposes, just published in December 2016, is an example of how our work is not only scholarly but of real importance to people across the EU. Controversial in nature, due to the strong interests of the sunbed industry and the number of people who use sunbeds, this Opinion may lead risk managers and policy makers to introduce new rules and regulations, but that is beyond the scope of the Scientific Committees. 

Our role is to impartially and independently examine existing studies, without bias, and to provide a scientific Opinion based on sound science. In this case, the data shows that there is strong evidence that exposure to UVR through sunbed use causes cutaneous melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma, especially when first exposure takes place at a younger age. It is also moderately associated with basal cell carcinoma and ocular melanoma.

Therefore, there can be no safe exposure limit for UV radiation from sunbeds. Ultraviolet Radiation (UVR), including that emitted by sunbeds, is considered a complete carcinogen, in that it can initiate and promote cancer. That means that it cannot be said that using sunbeds moderately or according to existing safety regulations could make sunbed use safe. 

Some sunbed users say that they use sunbeds to stimulate vitamin D production, but this is not necessary, since the risks outweigh the gain. If vitamin D levels are insufficient, a balanced diet and brief, regular outdoor exposure to daylight should suffice, and, if this proves to be deficient, dietary supplements can be taken.

This Opinion is an update of the 2006 Opinion on the biological effects of UVR from sunbeds, by the Scientific Committee on Consumer Products. That Opinion concluded that using UVR tanning devices for cosmetic tanning was likely to increase the risk of malignant melanoma of the skin and possibly ocular melanoma.

The word 'likely' no longer applies: using URV tanning devices for cosmetic tanning does increase the risk of cancer, even after a single use and especially if exposure is before the age of 30. This Opinion is a risk assessment. It is now up to individuals to take personal responsibility and up to risk managers to decide if new regulations or restrictions are in order. 


In the second Opinion on Tobacco Additives, the SCHEER proposes step-wise strategy for assessing tobacco additives


The European Commission and its Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks (SCHEER) published the final Opinion on additives used in tobacco products (Tobacco Additives II) on 21 December, 2016. The European Commission requested this Opinion to assist in its work in developing guidelines for assessing individual tobacco additives.

Previously, a priority list of 15 additives contained in cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco was drawn up, based on a scientific Opinion (Tobacco Additives I) by the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCHENIHR). This new Opinion takes this work further, in compliance with the EU Tobacco Product Directive (TPD), which calls for manufacturers and importers of tobacco products to carry out comprehensive studies on additives. 

The priority list was drawn up according to specific criteria to provide a starting point, beginning with 15 frequently used additives intended to impart tobacco products with a characterising flavour or that facilitate inhalation or add to their addictiveness. Enhanced reporting obligations will be required for these additives and others to be added to the list in the future.

Because there are thousands of additives and because they may react differently when burned and when combined, conducting studies on individual additives could be a long and daunting process. The SCHEER proposes a step-wise strategy that minimises testing and foresees evaluating additives with similar structures and properties as a group rather than individually when feasible.

In addition to proposing specific steps and tests, the SCHEER identified some general criteria, e.g. that the test outcomes should be relevant for tobacco smoking and related to actual levels of human exposure and to tobacco-induced diseases. Furthermore, comparative toxicity testing strategies, where differences in the effect of the tobacco product with and without the additive are evaluated, are not considered suitable to address their properties with the currently available methodology. Indeed, at present, these studies lack discriminative power due to the high background toxicity of tobacco products and their results cannot be generalised to all products and brands.

The SCHEER proposes to look instead at the effects of the pure additive, and its pyrolysis products, in order to evaluate their contribution to tobacco product toxicity.

The SCHEER also identified major data gaps for the 15 priority additives and produced a reporting template, making reporting easier and more uniform.