The city of Miami Beach, in a landmark move, has begun offering public sunscreen dispensers placed in near pools and beaches in order to curb cancer rates associated with prolonged sun exposure.
With one in five Americans expected to develop skin cancer in their lifetime, and global rates on the rise, officials and medical professionals are still struggling to find the most effective way to persuade the public to be more vigilant in protecting themselves.
The Miami initiative hopes to create a measurable impact on this epidemic.
To illustrate the importance of the issue, there are more new cases of skin cancer per year than the combined cases of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer, according to the Skin Cancer foundation.
Because skin cancer takes decades to surface in individuals, it is very challenging to design effective policies for public education. Additionally, human psychology can sometimes counteract the efforts of a campaign that focuses on the negatives of a risky behavior in a phenomenon known as risk aversion.
Researchers tested the theory on public beaches by handing out differently worded leaflets which either emphasized the threat of skin cancer, or the positive outcome of retaining younger looking skin. Those individuals who were shown the positives of better skin were more likely to take the free sunscreen that was offered.
One good sign in the fight on skin cancer is that the rate of tanning bed use among adults declined from 5.5% to 4.2% between 2010 and 2013, possibly resulting from the 10% excise tax on indoor tanning that was introduced in 2010 as part of the Affordable Care Act.
In Australia an educational government campaign about the risks of skin cancer, started in 1980, is beginning to show up in the skin cancer statistics among young people. Even as many other Western countries are experiencing increasing rates of skin cancer in their youth populations, Australia has been seeing a strong decline in the same group.
Miami Beach hopes that by providing convenient access to sunscreen, along with positive messages about why to use it, it will see similar results in the decades to come.