Chicago to make teen tattoos easier, piercing and tanning tougher

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The city would reduce the legal age for getting a tattoo in Chicago from 21 to 18. State law already allows 18-year-olds to get tattoos. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times file photo

Chicago would make it easier for teenagers to get tattoos but harder for young people to go to tanning parlors or get their tongues or lips pierced under a mayoral crackdown advanced Thursday.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed the changes in December at a City Council meeting.

On Thursday, the City Council’s Committee on Health and Environmental Protection endorsed the seemingly contradictory ordinance, in large part, to put Chicago in sync with state law.

On the one hand, the city would reduce — from 21 to 18 — the legal age for getting a tattoo in Chicago. State law already allows 18-year-olds to plaster their bodies with tattoos.

Chicago sets a higher bar, even though many tattoo parlors have been unaware of the higher standard because it hasn’t been enforced. The change would “prevent confusion over which age applies,” said Gerrin Butler of the city’s Department of Public Health.

On the other hand, the mayor’s plan would get tougher on teen tanning and tongue and lip-piercing.

If the full Council approves, minors would be prohibited from having “any piercing of the oral cavity without written consent in a form prescribed by the commissioner of public health.”

Parental consent already is needed for oral piercings. But there is no special form.

The term “oral cavity” would apply to tongue and lip piercing.

As for Chicago tanning parlors, they would be off limits to anyone under 18 “regardless of whether the person has the permission of a parent or guardian.”

“Indoor tanning has been found to be a cause of melanoma, which is a greater risk for those who start as teens,” Butler said.

“A few years ago, the state moved to saying that teens cannot tan at all. Prior to that, you used to be able to get parental consent. Your parent could say it’s okay to tan. Recently, they changed that to 18,” Butler said. “We’re just trying to clean up our ordinance to ensure that teens are not able to tan because we do recognize there is a concern for skin cancer.”

Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) was all for raising the tanning bar.

“As someone who went to the dermatologist today to get my skin checked and asking the staff there about it, the effects of a tanning salon on a 17-year-old manifests itself when they’re 25, 35, 45, 55. They don’t know that. So, it’s a wise thing to do,” he said.

Health Committee Chairman George Cardenas (12th) was skittish about dropping the legal age to get a tattoo from 21 to 18.

“I know it’s state law. But in the city, we’re always very reticent to make those changes as we try to protect our kids. More of an urban environment where there’s a lot of kids here. Why do this?” Cardenas asked.

Butler replied: “We haven’t found that there’s any public health reason for not changing it from 21 to 18. It would be consistent with the rest of the state. And that’s what we’re looking to do: Be consistent without negatively affecting public health.”

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