As the sun beats down on Queens and the region in the season’s strongest heat wave yet, a bill designed to protect children from overexposure to our home star’s waves of energy is making its way to Gov. Cuomo’s desk.
Whether he will sign it is not yet known.
The measure, authored by state Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria), and carried in the lower house by Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria), would allow children to apply sunscreen at school or camp without the doctor’s note that is now required, as long as their parents or guardians say it’s OK.
The goal is to prevent sun poisoning and skin cancer, the latter of which most experts agree is largely caused by long-term, unprotected exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Sunscreen is designed to prevent the epidermal damage that can result in skin cancer. But the state Education Department and the Food and Drug Administration consider sunscreen to be an over-the-counter drug, requiring a doctor’s written permission for use in school, a rule also followed by camps in New York.
The Gianaris-Simotas bill would allow children to use sunscreen with just a note from their parents.
“Our schools should be protecting our kids, not putting them in danger,” Gianaris said in announcing the bill’s passage late last month. “Prohibiting children from using sunscreen is senseless and harmful. I urge the governor to sign this common-sense measure into law immediately to ensure that our children are not at risk this summer.”
“I congratulate Senator Gianaris on the passage of his bill to protect our kids,” Simotas said. “I am proud to have been a champion of this legislation in the Assembly as we work to protect our state’s students from skin cancer. As a new mother, I know how important it is to take every precaution to keep my daughter safe and healthy. Making it easier for our kids to safeguard themselves from the dangers of the sun is a common sense strategy that should be adopted immediately.”
The bill had not yet gotten to Cuomo as of Tuesday, an aide to the governor said, and will be reviewed once it does.
In Queens, a longtime pediatrician who just retired agrees with Gianaris and Simotas that the measure makes sense.
“I think that’s reasonable,” said Dr. Allan Rothenberg, who practiced at Queens Pediatric Care in Lindenwood for decades and retired July 1. “The reasons are, even though sunscreen is technically considered a medication, Advil, Tylenol and Motrin are medications also, and I’m pretty sure the parents can give permission to use those. The possibility of side effects from sunscreen is extremely negligible.”
The doctor said that in all his years in practice, he doesn’t think he ever saw a child with skin cancer, “Thank God.”
It generally shows up later in life, but Gianaris said most of the damage to the skin that eventually results in cancer is incurred before people turn 18.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though it says the two most common kinds, basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, are highly curable. It’s the third most common kind, melanoma, that is much more dangerous. The CDC says 65 to 90 percent of melanomas are caused by overexposure to ultraviolet light from the sun.
While the government and medical establishment have been spreading the message that people should avoid unprotected exposure to the sun, there is a dissident school of thought that says the danger is overrated, and some studies even say the use of sunscreen can increase the incidence of cancer. But Rothenberg said that just confuses the issue, and that people should go with the majority view.
“The general consensus, and particularly the recommendation of the American Cancer Society and almost all dermatologists who specialize in skin cancer, is that we will reduce the incidence of skin cancer by using sunscreen,” he said.
Rothenberg and other doctors recommend sunscreen to children once they are 6 months old. And they agree that if anyone sees a change in color, size, shape or texture in a birthmark or mole on a child or an adult, have a dermatologist check it out.