Seven small-business owners operating 30 tanning salons in the Omaha and Lincoln markets filed a lawsuit against the Nebraska Cancer Coalition and two of its officers.
The action filed in Douglas County District Court says the plaintiffs have been harmed by false, misleading and defamatory statements made by the NCC about their businesses and the indoor tanning industry.
Plaintiffs say they account for 68 percent of the known tanning salons in the Omaha and Lincoln market areas and an estimated 84 percent of sales of tanning services in those markets, as well as a "very significant" percentage of total sales of tanning services in Nebraska.
Bart Bonn, president of Ashley Lynn's, Inc., the Palm Beach Tan franchisee in Nebraska, said in a news release: "We advocate moderate and sensible UV exposure for Nebraska citizens who choose to tan, and pride ourselves in operating our businesses within both FDA guidelines and the law. It is both unfair and unlawful for the NCC to attack our businesses with a campaign full of deception and untruths."
The Nebraska Cancer Coalition calls itself a statewide partnership of 350 individuals representing 200 public and private organizations, including hospitals, nonprofits, schools, colleges and government health agencies.
Among the coalition's claims made against the indoor tanning industry, posted on NCC's website: "Evidence shows that exposure to artificial UV light before age 30 increases a person’s risk of melanoma by 75 percent; risk increases with each exposure (tanning session). In a recent study, 76 percent of melanomas diagnosed in people aged 18-29 were caused by indoor tanning."
The lawsuit alleges that through an orchestrated campaign known as "The Bed is Dead," the NCC committed defamation and violated the Nebraska Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The news release says the American Suntanning Association, a trade group of which the plaintiffs are members, contacted NCC on multiple occasions over an 11-month period, documenting the inaccuracies and misleading elements of its campaign and asking the NCC to make corrections.
NCC officials could not be reached for comment. The organization is housed at 233 South 13th St., Suite 1200, in Lincoln.
"It is unfortunate that Nebraska tanning salon owners must seek relief in the legal system to preserve the right to operate our businesses free from misinformation and attacks," said Curt Bowen, president of plaintiff JB & Associates, Inc., the Sun Tan City franchisee in Nebraska. "But in this case, our very livelihoods are on the line."
JB & Associates is at 237 S. 70th St., Suite 217, Lincoln. Another plaintiff is Max Tan, Inc. Suite Y, 233 N. 48th St. in Lincoln.
The suit asks that the defendants correct their misstatements to the public and refrain from engaging in further deceptive trade practices and defamatory statements. The lawsuit is available at www.NebraskaTanFacts.com.
Plaintiffs said their efforts are being supported by the American Suntanning Association. The two officers named in the lawsuit are Dr. Alan G. Thorson, president of the coalition, and Dr. David J. Watts, vice president.