Tanning salon owners in Southwest Florida are worried about the bottom line.
While Anthony Toepfer is more concerned with the entire Senate health-care plan than just the tanning tax it now includes, the tax weighs heavily on his mind. After all, he owns Naples-based Zoom Tan.
Under the Senate’s health-care bill, there would be a tax on indoor tanning equal to 10 percent of the amount paid for the tanning session.
Consumers will have to pay the tax at the time of services to tanning salons, which then will have to remit the extra tax quarterly. If tanning salons don’t collect the taxes at the time of the session, they will have to pay the additional 10 percent tax themselves.
“Democrats are so into being politically correct with regard to gender and race, but in this case they really missed it,” Toepfer said. “In Washington, everyone is lobbying for special interests and the health-care bill in general is just bad for America.”
Judy Ross, owner of Southern Exposure Tan & Boutique in Bonita Springs, said the Senate bill that adds 10 percent onto her gross annual sales will make it harder to stay afloat.
“I’ve been a small business owner for 25 years and it’s becoming difficult for people like us to earn a living,” Ross said. “The government is supposed to be all about small business and then they turn around and put this tax on us. And it’s not a small amount — this is 10 percent.”
Tanning customers aren’t happy about helping foot the bill for public healthcare.
“People who get plastic surgery or tan, who care how they look, aren’t the ones dragging the health-care system down,” tanner Kerryanne Taylor said. “I’m not out doing drugs, having 10 kids I can’t take care of or obese, and I have to pay for my own health insurance already. I’m offended that what I enjoy doing today is going to go toward someone else’s future medical expenses, and it seems like taxing healthy people to pay for unhealthy people.”
Supporters of the tax have called it a sin tax that will help stigmatize tanning beds for consumers.
But Indoor Tanning Association representatives say the benefits of moderate exposure to ultraviolet light, including its stimulation of the body’s production of vitamin D, shouldn’t be discounted.
The tanning tax is in lieu of a previous 5 percent tax on elective cosmetic procedures like Botox, now infamously referred to as the “Bo-tax.”
That section of the proposed health-care bill caved under pressure from lobbyist groups that included members of the medical industry. The New York Times reported one such example, StopCosmeticTax.org, which was financed in part by Allergan, maker of Botox.
Dr. David M. Pariser, president of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), said his association proposed consideration of the indoor-tanning tax instead of the cosmetic tax. Representatives from the AAD contacted senators with the message that reducing skin cancer in the future would reduce health-care costs.
Pariser added that the tanning tax would “raise a little revenue now.”
The Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation predicts the tax will raise $2.7 billion over the next decade.
Opponents of the cosmetic tax lobbied that it discriminated against women, who receive the majority of cosmetic surgery and anti-aging injections.
But that argument doesn’t carry much water with customers or tanning salon owners.
About 80 percent of all cosmetic procedures are performed on Caucasian women, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, about the same number of women who tan indoors regularly.
They will bear most of the financial burden of the tanning tax, which to members of the tanning industry is just as discriminatory as the cosmetic procedure tax would have been.
“The cosmetic surgery industry has a much stronger lobby than we do, and Congress does not serve the weak — it serves the mighty,” Toepfer said. “All of the money they’ll collect wouldn’t even pay the congressional airline bill. It wouldn’t be so bad if they were going to use the money wisely, but the government is just going to squander it like they always do.”
The tanning tax will apply to services performed on or after July 1, 2010, and the amendment specifically defines indoor tanning as a “service employing any electronic product designed to incorporate one or more ultraviolet lamps intended for the irradiation of an individual by ultraviolet radiation.”
But the tanning tax excludes ultraviolet treatment, also known as phototherapy, performed by licensed medical professionals for use in treating skin disorders like psoriasis and eczema. This facet of the bill has tanning industry professionals scratching their heads.
“We’ve been going around and around with the dermatology industry for years on tanning, but they’ve been treating disorders for years using phototherapy, which is the exact same light as a tanning bed,” said Ross, of Southern Exposure Tan & Boutique. “Yet insurance companies pay these medical professionals for phototherapy.”
In a time when consumers want more value for what they spend, Ross said, she understands that customers will be frustrated by the tax.
“Even though customers won’t get anything more or anything better for this extra money, they’ll have to pay it,” Ross said. “If I had to pay an extra 10 percent for something, I would hope I would get something in return.”
For people who want to avoid the tanning tax altogether and stay safe from harmful ultraviolet rays, airbrush spray tanning is an option that strikes a chord with the beauty and health conscious.
Karen Bradley owned her own tanning salon but moved to Felix Andrew Salon in Naples when her lease was up.
Bradley is busier now than when she owned her salon.
She’s been doing spray tanning for seven years.
“Airbrushing has become so popular these days because people are learning so much about the harmful effects of the sun,” Bradley said.
“Also, spray tan is immediate gratification rather than having to be in the tanning bed or out in the sun and wait for results.”
Spray tanning allows the customer to adjust the variation of color.
They can temporarily darken their skin evenly.
Regardless of whether someone tans in a tanning bed or via airbrush, Bradley is also opposed to taxing a tan.
“I think that’s up to the individual and if they want to do it, they shouldn’t be taxed by it,” Bradley said.
For tanning salon owners and customers, little can be done to pre-empt the tax if and when it goes into effect.
Toepfer said the only option is to defeat the incumbents in upcoming elections.
“It would be worth losing the 10 percent of the good politicians to lose the 90 percent of the bad,” Toepfer said.
E-mail Kelly Merritt at email@example.com