Age limit decision to protect public health went viral
PERSPECTIVE: Following this article, read comments on the Board of Health decision by Dr. Alfred DeMaria, the Department of Public Health’s State Epidemiologist
By Patriot Staff Reporter
Webster - “There is a serious epidemic of kitchen tattooing in this town. I know of at least eight or ten kitchen operations where illegal tattooing is taking place. These people are making money off minors who can’t come in and get a legal tattoo.”
These are the words of Ed Masterson, owner of Steel & Ink, one of two legitimate, licensed tattoo parlors in town. He continues, “I see at least three (minors) a week; they come in with botched tattoos, they come in with infections, and scars from infections, and they want me to fix it. I’ve seen just about everything in my many years of tattooing.”
Police had discovered that amateur tattoo artists were advertising on Facebook and told Health Agent Cathleen Liberty about the illegal activity. She had also had a complaint from a neighbor about a local “kitchen artist,”and so the Board moved to address the problem at a public hearing last week. One attendee at the hearing told of a van that drove up near his property and parked, advertising illegal tattooing services.
In response, the Board amended town regulations to allow 14- to 17 year-olds to obtain a tattoo if a parent approves and accompanies the teen to the tattoo parlor.
The decision was made in the context of known illegal activity and the tenets of public safety. Unlicensed tattooing is known to cause serious health effects, including MRSA, HIV, hepatitis, and bacterial infections.
Along with the decision to allow minors to obtain tattoos, the board tightened up the regulation for who may perform body art. Licensed tattoo artists must now have at least 1800 hours of experience under the supervision of a licensed practitioner before they can operate on their own.
“We wanted to make it as safe as possible for individuals to get tattoos,” said Board of Health member Nancie Zecco, who has a Master's degree in Public Health, specializing in epidemiology, which is the study of causes , distribution, and control of diseases in populations.
Still, the board’s decision went viral, as they say. All the news media, print, radio, and broadcast, descended on the town hall last week. Channel 5, Channel 7, Channel 3, NPR, WAAF, and the Telegram & Gazette were there onsite, and dozens more picked up the story and relayed it across the state and nation.
Much of the reaction was negative, and Board of Health Chairman David Zalewski announced on Monday that the board will discuss the age limit again at its next meeting.
“We are dealing with a real situation,” Ms. Zecco said. “We have two regulated, licensed tattoo parlors in town and would rather have younger people go to them for a tattoo.”
“What was lost in all the media attention, all that people heard was that 14-year olds can get tattoos in Webster. What they’re not hearing is that the decision was for safety reasons. If kids are going to get a tattoo you want them to get it in a place that’s safe and regulated, not in a friend’s house.
“We knew there was an issue in town, and we took the initiative to protect the public by amending the regulations. It’s still up to the parents to make the decision for the child,” she said. Like many parents, she herself would not allow a 14-year old to get a tattoo. “However, it’s still up to the parents.” Ms. Zecco had initially moved to lower the age to 16, not 14.
Ed Masterson too said he “would not do it to one of my kids or grandchildren, and I wouldn’t do it to someone else’s child.” He said the kids who are getting the “kitchen tattoos” are the ones that parents can’t control. He tells 14-15 year olds who want a tattoo to hang a picture of it on the wall for two years and come to see him after that.
As for the new regulations, Masterson said that if he sees a lot of 15-year olds with botched tattoos, he might start fixing them.
Massachusetts state law stipulates that individuals must be 18-years old to obtain a tattoo, but towns may amend the regulations. Some have. Auburn, for example, allows tattooing of kids as young as 6.
Andrew R. Pelletier, Auburn’s Development and Inspectional Services Director in the Public Health Division, explained the history of that decision. In 2004 the State ruled that towns could not outlaw tattoo parlors.
Auburn’s Board of Health, he said, “was very active at the time, and was adamant that we were there to protect the health of the child, not to legislate the morals of the family.”
There was little precedence for an age limit. Auburn was one of the first five or ten towns in the state to address it, he said. “We debated hotly on the issue of age.” The board looked at the age at which mental development would not be affected, and used laws regarding other dangerous products, such as lead paint, as its guide. “We didn’t want to get involved in the raising of children.
“Body arts are a concern to public health,” he continued. “There’s a lot of nastiness out there. But we’re allowed freedom of expression.” Mr. Pelletier said three or four tattoo parlors have come to Auburn since the law was passed, but “all refuse to work on children.”
As for unlicensed tattoo artists, “we can’t regulate that,” he said. “But we do have enforcement powers and when we find them we can arrest them.”
Webster's Health Agent Liberty echoed that position. “But the hardest part is to catch them,”she said. “There's nothing we can do unless we catch them in the act.”
Will Auburn revisit its age criterion? “We regularly review all of our regulations to see if the codes are still good and to incorporate emerging products and new technologies. Now that Webster has looked at this, we can look at if we want to open it up again.”
Back in Webster, the Board of Health’s next scheduled meeting, when it will revisit the decision, is on May 7.
Dr. Alfred DeMaria, the Department of Public Health’s State Epidemiologist, on the Board of Health decision:
We in public health are always balancing risks against benefits. When amateurs engage in illegal tattooing, there are infection risks. We do worry about that, and that's why there are regulations.
Each community has to deal with this on its own, he said. If a younger person comes in for a tattoo, you want to make sure the parents are involved if possible, and that it is done safely. Consider this: a 15-year old can't just walk into a body art establishment, and so his options are limited to having friends or illegal tattooists doing it. But, if there's an option to get it done with a parent, they can get it done safely at a licensed shop.
We don't generally think of hepatitis and HIV infection in this age group, but a MRSA infection presents even more of a risk if equipment is not sterilized. Skin infections become an issue, there are multiple possibilities for infection that people don't think of first. If a teenager is getting a tattoo in a controlled establishment, he will be safer; somebody has a reputation to maintain.”
Tattooing was illegal in Massachusetts until 15 years ago, and there was a lot of underground activity. Regulations were adopted to make tattooing safe. The Webster Board of Health's decision extends the regulations to a younger age group.
- Wednesday, 11 April 2012
- Posted in Categories: : News