Regulation of state tattoo shops overdue

May 12, 2014

Pennsylvania recently became one of the last states to impose some much-needed regulations on the tanning-bed business, calling for inspections, prohibiting anyone younger than 16 from using them and requiring parental permission for anyone aged 16 to 18. Adults now also have to sign consent forms, acknowledging they are aware of the potential health threats.

What took lawmakers so long to enact this common-sense set of rules?

Well, that’s a good question. But considering the antediluvian system by which beer and wine is sold in the commonwealth, it shouldn’t be surprising.

With tanning beds now subject to proper oversight, it’s time for lawmakers to turn their attention to keeping an eye on another industry that has a long-term, and potentially damaging, impact on our skin – the tattoo industry.

Setting aside doubts about the wisdom of adorning your epidermis with an expensive design that will stick with you even as your skin sags and tastes change, getting a tattoo from a fly-by-night artist, home “scratcher” or a parlor that’s a little lax when it comes to safety and sanitation could prove costly even beyond the tattoo’s initial price tag. While most customers are able to get a tattoo without incident, with the worst outcome being something they simply don’t like, they could be at risk for contracting the HIV virus, staph infections or hepatitis from needles that are not properly tended to by their owners.

Right now in Pennsylvania, it’s caveat emptor – let the buyer beware – when it comes to the booming tattoo market.

It might not remain that way much longer, thankfully. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives approved a measure earlier this month that would require shops that deal in tattoos, body piercing and permanent cosmetics to be licensed. It also sets safety, health and sterilization standards. Like the tanning bed legislation, it would also mandate parental consent for those younger than age 18, and require those parents be present.

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Rosemary Brown, a Republican from East Stroudsburg, told Pittsburgh radio station WESA-FM, “It’s more than just, ‘Hey, we’ve been behind the times.’ Now, it’s starting to say we’re identifying that it’s not regulated at all.”

You would think tattoo artists would recoil from the possibility of more stringent supervision, but many support the idea, saying it would nudge amateurs who do shoddy work out of the trade and lift its reputation.

Brian Brenneman, a tattoo shop proprietor, told The Sentinel in Carlisle in 2012, “If you walk up to the average person on the street, the first things they say about tattoo shops is that it’s a shop with a roomful of bikers and it’s some dirty place. If the state is regulating the industry, it would do more to assure the public that they are not walking into some hell hole and, I think, it would improve our business.”

The stigma surrounding tattoos largely faded in recent years. They are no longer perceived as being the marker of bohemians or “burn-outs.” In a study released in December, the Pew Research Center found that 14 percent of Americans have at least one tattoo that they acquired at one of the country’s 21,000 tattoo parlors.

In Pennsylvania, they should have some confidence that a tattoo is the only thing they’ll be going home with.



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