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Tax the tan?

More than a quarter of white female teenagers have had at least three sessions in a tanning booth, a new survey shows, prompting concerned dermatologists to make a bold proposal: Slap a $20 tax on every visit to the tanning salon for people under 18. Though teenagers may not know (or care), indoor tanning lamps bombard their skin with the same ultraviolet rays that come from the sun -- and which are blamed for making skin cancer the nation's most commonly diagnosed cancer. So, Dr. Robert Dellavalle and his colleagues in the dermatology department at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center suggest the tax to get adolescents' attention.

"Since youth represents an especially critical period during which UV radiation increases skin cancer risk, altering the tanning behavior of minors is a prime target of skin cancer prevention efforts," the Colorado researchers write in today's Archive of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

The Indoor Tanning Association, which represents the nation's 6,000 tanning salons, denounced the idea, noting that moderate exposure to ultraviolet light may actually promote health. UV light helps the body absorb vitamin D, which is important in the development of bones.

But Dr. Ted Daly, a dermatologist at the Nassau University Medical Center in New York, said the risks far outweigh the benefits if teenagers go to the tanning salon regularly. "While we don't condone it, an occasional visit to the tanning booth may not be so bad, but teens should not go on a weekly basis or over the long term," Daly said. "Those who do are looking at a future filled with wrinkles, liver spots, sun damage."

A gene for dyslexia

Finnish researchers said last week they had found a gene they believe could be important in causing dyslexia, the most common learning disorder among children. Pinpointing the genetic changes that underlie dyslexia could help scientists understand what causes it and perhaps find better ways to help people with dyslexia overcome the handicap. Dyslexia affects anywhere between 3 percent and 10 percent of the population and is characterized by difficulties recognizing and reading words.

Studies suggest that people with dyslexia process information in a different area of the brain than does the average person, even though they are often of average or above-average intelligence.

Some evidence shows they use the right side of the brain for reading instead of the left side, which is better set up for processing words.

Dyslexia is known to have a genetic component -- it runs in families -- but it remains poorly understood.

To compare, the team studied 20 unrelated Finnish families, with 58 dyslexic and 61 nondyslexic members. Among the families with higher rates of dyslexia, they found a gene called DYXC1 was disrupted. In other cases, DYXC1 has a "stop sign" in the wrong place, which causes cells to produce a shortened version of the DYXC1 protein. DYXC1 is unlikely to explain all cases of dyslexia, the researchers said. But "in a complex disorder, even a modest increase in genetic risk may be interesting," they wrote. "There is overwhelming evidence that dyslexia is a genetically complex condition."

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