The Skin Cancer Foundation yesterday filed a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, asking that the F.T.C. use its authority under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act to investigate MTV's Jersey Shore television series and related promotional initiatives. The Foundation is urging the F.T.C. to hold MTV accountable for promoting cancer-causing behavior through the popular television show, Jersey Shore. Specifically, in the years since the show premiered, tanning beds, a known carcinogen, became a disturbingly integral part of Jersey Shore's narrative. The series consistently portrayed tanning as acceptable and harmless, potentially influencing its young viewers (nearly nine million at the show's peak1) to engage in a dangerous activity. Though the series recently wrapped up, the show will live on through spin-offs and repeats, continuing to expose an impressionable audience to disturbing behaviors with no disclaimer.
The complaint alleges that MTV utilized a complex web of programming, advertising, promotion and merchandising to glamorize and endorse excessive tanning as socially enhancing and beneficial, through use of the cast's "Gym, Tan, Laundry" ritual, without disclosing the related health risks. MTV is deceptively influencing viewers to engage in a cancer-causing activity in violation of Section 5 of the F.T.C. Act. The Skin Cancer Foundation is demanding that MTV, at the very least, include a warning about the risks of skin cancer with the show, its advertising, promotion and merchandising.
"While experts have long suspected a link between skin cancer and tanning beds, it was not until a few years ago that we had research studies definitively showing a connection. The fact is, tanning beds cause skin cancer,2 " said Perry Robins , MD, President and Founder of The Skin Cancer Foundation. "As the series progressed over the years, displays of tanning behaviors grew in frequency along with the cast's influence over viewers, to the point where the expression 'Gym, Tan, Laundry' became a national catchphrase. The repeated and ongoing references to tanning as a harmless activity are dangerous and hazardous to the public's health."
The Skin Cancer Foundation's first attempt to educate those associated with Jersey Shore occurred in February 2010 (after season one), when the Foundation staged an intervention that aired nationally on the television show Extra and resulted in the cast members pledging to change their behavior.3 Despite this pledge, frequent and persistent tanning references were made by cast members throughout the life of the Jersey Shore series. The coverage quickly grew beyond neutral storytelling and developed into thematic, recurring promotion of tanning.
In an effort to assess how much of a role tanning played in the series, the Foundation audited season three of Jersey Shore in its entirety, and episodes one, two, three and six of season five. The Foundation identified an alarming 186 visual or verbal references to tanning in just these 17 episodes. This includes 12 specific mentions of "G.T.L." ("Gym, Tan, Laundry") and 48 images of tanning (including a photo of a tanning parlor in the opening credits of each episode) in season three alone. In just the four episodes of season five that the Foundation reviewed, there were 77 total references to tanning, including 11 mentions of G.T.L. and 20 images of tanning beds.
These findings prompted the Foundation to initiate a September 2012 meeting with MTV executives, where the organization requested that MTV include a warning with each episode and in conjunction with the sale of items and activities that promote tanning. MTV refused, prompting the Foundation to file a formal complaint with the F.T.C. in the hope that the Commission would require the use of such a warning.
Throughout the series, cast members have been shown trying to obtain a tan at any cost, implying to their viewers that tanning is necessary for social acceptance and that the look achieved outweighs the potential health hazards. This implication is further perpetuated through MTV's promotion of the program. The commercials and trailers show the cast members in tanning beds,4 going to the beach to tan, and discussing the need to excessively tan. Additionally, MTV's online games and promotions encourage fans to live the Jersey Shore lifestyle by purchasing G.T.L. products.5
MTV is well-known for a platform that includes repeating programming to an excessive extent. Although the series wrapped up at the end of 2012 it is fair to conclude that the show will live on through reruns, reunion specials and spin-off series, potentially reaching MTV's global audience of half a billion households.6
"The Foundation has struggled with the disappointing messaging of this show for years. MTV should accept some responsibility for informing viewers about the hazards of the activities promoted in its programming. If a warning regarding tanning's health hazards is added to each episode and just one person heeds it, this endeavor is worthwhile," said Dr. Robins.
The dangers of tanning are well documented – ultraviolet radiation is a proven human carcinogen. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, an affiliate of the World Health Organization, includes UV tanning devices in its Group 1, a list of the most dangerous cancer-causing substances.7 New research has shown that those who make just four visits to a tanning booth per year can increase their risk for melanoma by 11 percent, and their risk for the two most common forms of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, by 15 percent.8 Overall, those who tan indoors are 74 percent more likely to develop potentially deadly melanoma than those who have never tanned indoors.9
Though most tanning references the Jersey Shore cast makes are about indoor tanning devices, it is important to note that the outdoor tanning (aka "sunbathing") is also health-hazardous. About 86 percent of melanomas10 and 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to UV radiation from the sun.11
Disturbingly, aside from the occasional sunburn, the cast never seriously discusses the risks of tanning or the danger associated with tanning. For example, in Episode 13 of season two, cast member Paul DelVecchio (Pauly D) enthusiastically nominated himself "Most Likely to Get Skin Cancer."
"We are dealing with a tanning epidemic in this country, and I see the effects it has on young men and women every day in my practice. It amazes me that girls come to see me and admit that they have memberships at three different tanning salons," said Senior Vice President of The Skin Cancer Foundation Deborah Sarnoff , MD, the dermatologist who staged the televised 2010 intervention with Jersey Shore's cast. "There is a cavalier attitude that it's 'just' skin cancer, and that it can be easily remedied. But it's not a joke to the people who watch their nose disappear with excision surgery, or to those who undergo chemotherapy to stop the spread of their potentially deadly melanoma. This is real – I've had patients as young as 25 die from melanoma."
The Skin Cancer Foundation acknowledges that it is not MTV's role to advocate or dismiss any particular activity or behavior. However, the network has an impressionable demographic that happens to be a core part of the population at particular risk for skin cancer. From 1970 to 2009, the incidence of melanoma increased by 800 percent among young women and 400 percent among young men.12 Each year, more than 9,000 people die from melanoma.13 By refusing to warn Jersey Shore viewers about the thoroughly established dangers of tanning, MTV is putting lives in danger.
The complaint was filed with the F.T.C. by Sanders Ortoli Vaughn-Flam Rosenstadt (SOVR) LLP, on behalf of The Skin Cancer Foundation. The complaint is available at SkinCancer.org/jersey-shore.
For more information about The Skin Cancer Foundation, including information about indoor tanning and its link to skin cancer, please visit SkinCancer.org.
1 Gorman B. Thursday Cable Ratings: 'Jersey Shore' Keeps Rising; 'Royal Pains,' 'Fairly Legal' Premieres; 'Real Housewives' Finale & More. TV By The Numbers. Available at: http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/2011/01/21/thursday-cable-ratings-jersey-shore-keeps-rising-royal-pains-fairly-legal-premieres-real-housewives-finale-more/79679/ Accessed January 7, 2013.
2 El Ghissassi, F. et al., Special report: policy. A review of human carcinogens—part D: radiation. The Lancet 2009; 10(8):751-752.
3 Tanning Intervention with the cast of Jersey Shore on Extra. YouTube. Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVmm-u9fmJY Accessed January 7, 2013.
4 MTV's "Jersey Shore" Trailer #1. YouTube. Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ru7FLCwlStE&feature=related. Accessed January 7, 2013.
5 MTV Shop. Available at: http://MTV.com. Accessed January 7, 2013.
6 Bibel S. MTV Bids Farewell to 'Jersey Shore' With a Seven Day Marathon. TV By The Numbers.
Available at: http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/2012/12/11/mtv-bids-farewell-to-jersey-shore-with-a-seven-day-marathon/161254/. Accessed January 7, 2013.
7 El Ghissassi, F. et al., Special report: policy. A review of human carcinogens—part D: radiation. The Lancet 2009; 10(8):751-752.
8 Zhang M, Qureshi AA, Geller AC, Frazier L, Hunter DJ, Han J. Use of tanning beds and incidence of skin cancer. J Clin Oncol 2012; 30(14):1588-93.
9 Lazovich D, Vogel RI, Berwick M, Weinstock MA, Anderson KE, Warshaw EM. Indoor tanning and risk of melanoma: a case-control study in a highly-exposed population. Cancer Epidem Biomar Prev 2010 June; 19(6):1557-1568.
10 Parkin DM, Mesher D, P Sasieni. Cancers attributable to solar (ultraviolet) radiation exposure in the UK in 2010. Br J Cancer. 2011; 105:566-569.
11 Koh HK, Geller AC, Miller DR, Grossbart TA, Lew RA. Prevention and early detection strategies for melanoma and skin cancer: Current status. Archives of Dermatology. 1996; 132: 436-442.
12 Reed KB, Brewer JD, Lohse CM, Bringe KE, Pruit CN, Gibson LE. Increasing Incidence of Melanoma Among Young Adults: An Epidemiological Study in Olmsted County, Minnesota. Mayo Clinic Proceedings 2012; 87(4):328-334.
13 American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2012. http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@epidemiologysurveilance/documents/document/acspc-031941.pdF Accessed January 17, 2012.
About The Skin Cancer Foundation
The Skin Cancer Foundation is the only global organization solely devoted to the prevention, early detection and treatment of skin cancer. The mission of the Foundation is to decrease the incidence of skin cancer through public and professional education and research. For more information, visit SkinCancer.org.
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