Is ‘Jersey Shore’ bad for viewers’ skin?

Tanning culture irking cancer awareness groups

The cast of “Jersey Shore” is not celebrated by cancer groups. “They promised to change” the tanning culture, but didn’t, says Deborah Sarnoff, a dermatologist in New York. Enlarge photo

Associated Press/MTV file photo

The cast of “Jersey Shore” is not celebrated by cancer groups. “They promised to change” the tanning culture, but didn’t, says Deborah Sarnoff, a dermatologist in New York.

“Jersey Shore,” the recently canceled MTV reality show with the motto “gym, tan, laundry,” is a health hazard, a skin cancer awareness group said in a formal complaint lodged Friday with the Federal Trade Commission.

Specifically, the Skin Cancer Foundation says still-available episodes of the show promote tanning, especially in tanning beds, which encourages young viewers to engage in a cancer-causing habit. It wants the FTC to investigate and for MTV to put warning messages on reruns and online episodes, as well as advertising, games and other products tied to the show.

The show deceives consumers by failing to disclose the links between skin cancer and the tanning practices it promotes, said Eric Vaughn-Flam, a lawyer for the nonprofit foundation, which is based in New York and funded in part by sunscreen makers.

MTV said in a statement that there are “no plans” for warning messages, but “we applaud the Skin Cancer Foundation’s efforts to bring attention to these issues, which are important to our audiences and the public health generally. But latching on to the fame of Jersey Shore is misguided. MTV regularly engages its audience on a whole host of youth health issues, including sexual health, mental health, dating abuse, skin cancer and others. Ultimately, we’ve seen time and time again that our audiences can be trusted to understand the difference between entertainment and responsible safe behavior and to act accordingly.”

Why is the cancer foundation making a fuss about “Jersey Shore” now, after six seasons and a December finale? Deborah Sarnoff, a dermatologist in New York and vice president of the foundation, said she actually met the cast and staged a tanning intervention with them in 2010, during the first season. After hearing about the well-established link between tanning and skin cancer, including deadly melanomas, “they promised to change,” Sarnoff said. “But they didn’t.”

Foundation staff members reviewed several subsequent seasons of the show and, according to the complaint, found hundreds of “visual or verbal references to tanning,” including many images of tanning beds.

“The cast members are often shown going to tanning salons, tanning at the beach and talking about their need to be extremely tan,” the complaint said. Viewers who play tie-in electronic games are prompted to give their avatars deep tans and to check in at real tanning salons, the complaint said.

Vaughn-Flam said MTV declined to add warning messages to the show at a meeting with foundation representatives in September.

Sarnoff said the group is concerned pro-tanning messages will continue in spin-offs such as “Snooki & JWoww,” which started its second season this month.

In one study, published this month, college women who regularly watched reality beauty shows were at least twice as likely to use tanning beds or tan outside as those who did not watch. The study did not specifically include “Jersey Shore,” and there’s no way to know whether viewers tanned more because of the shows they watched, said researcher Joshua Fogel, a health-policy researcher at Brooklyn College in New York.

But, he says, reality -how tanning fans are an obvious audience for prevention messages. “The people on these shows may just be having fun, but this stuff causes cancer.”

Indoor tanners are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never tanned indoors, the foundation said.

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