A prominent Tauranga dermatologist is calling for sunbeds to be abolished, describing them as "madness".
The comments from Dr Paul Salmon follow the International Agency for Research on Cancer's decision to reclassify the ultraviolet radiation from sunbeds as being "carcinogenic to humans", the highest risk category for causing cancer.
The ranking puts sunbeds at the same cancer risk level as tobacco, asbestos, arsenic and mustard gas.
Dr Salmon, who recently became the first New Zealander to chair a symposium at the World Congress of Dermatology, in Prague, said sunbeds should be abolished.
"I think sunbeds are madness and they shouldn't exist.
"There's no doubt when you look at all the studies that have been done on sunbed use, the use of sunbeds is imprudent and leads to an increased risk of all skin cancers, including melanoma."
Dr Salmon said all ultraviolet radiation was damaging to skin, and unless you were dark-skinned, living in New Zealand meant you were at additional risk.
"In New Zealand we all get far too much sun anyway because of the strength of our summer sun."
Dr Salmon said Bay of Plenty had particularly high rates of skin cancer.
"In Tauranga, over the past 20 years, the rate has increased four-fold, but it's hard to know what that relates to."
He favoured New Zealand introducing a "siesta period" to allow people to keep out of the sun when it was at its strongest.
However, the part-owner of Mount Maunganui's Deja Vu Day Spa, which operates sunbeds, said they were safe, if used correctly.
The woman, who wanted only to be known as Patricia, said her doctor would rather have her use a sunbed in a beauty salon than be out in the sun.
"If it's done under controlled conditions, I don't think it's too bad."
Patricia said she had been running sunbeds for about 20 years, and while demand was not as strong as it used to be, sunbeds remained one of the most popular parts of her current business.
The cost of sunbed sessions varied, but could be expected to be about $6 to $7 for up to half an hour.
While safety was important to Patricia, she said it was not at the forefront of most of her customers' minds.
"I do consider it, but people honestly, they just ignore it."
About eight per cent of the New Zealand population is believed to use sunbeds. New Zealand has one of the highest malignant melanoma rates in the world - about 2000 new cases and 250 deaths are reported every year. Health Minister Tony Ryall's office was planning a survey of compliance with the sunbed industry's voluntary code, which included restricting sun bed use to those aged 18 or over.