Pa. auditor urges licensing of tattoo parlors

Regulation of the industry would establish necessary safety standards


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Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner has called upon the General Assembly to enact legislation requiring the 750 known tattoo parlors in the state to be licensed and regulated by the state Health Department.

Mr. Wagner on Tuesday sent a five-page letter to Acting Health Secretary Michael Wolf, Gov. Tom Corbett, state legislators and Commonwealth Secretary Carol Aichele calling for a law that would also require tattoo parlors to be inspected for safety and sanitation standards by the Health Department.

He suggested the law should require minimum training for tattoo artists, possibly including an apprenticeship; certification of training in blood-borne pathogens, first aid and CPR; adequate liability insurance; and the issuance of fines for artists who operate illegally.

"Licensing of this industry and the establishment of minimum safety standards is in the best interest of the citizens of Pennsylvania," Mr. Wagner wrote in the letter and reiterated during a sidewalk news conference Tuesday outside Rogue Tattoo & Body Piercing in Lawrenceville.

Tattooing, he said, is "now one of the fastest-growing segments in the U.S. economy," noting that 21 percent of adults currently have one tattoo, according to a recent Harris poll.

He said that regulation and oversight is called for because tattooing is "an invasive procedure which presents a risk of infection with blood-borne pathogens and other infections," such as the Hepatitis C virus, "especially if the tattoo equipment is not properly sterilized."

According to Mr. Wagner, Pittsburgh has an estimated 83 tattoo parlors, one fewer than Philadelphia. Other cities and their estimated number of tattoo parlors are Allentown, 54; Scranton, 51; Reading, 38; York, 36; Lancaster, 32; Harrisburg, 31; and State College, 15.

He said he was shocked to learn that unlike hair salons, nail salons and barbershops, tattoo parlors in Pennsylvania are not licensed or regulated other than the state establishing 18 as the legal age to receive a tattoo. In fact, he said, Pennsylvania is the only state among the 10 most populous not to have tattooing regulations.

"Many of the tattoo parlors [in the state] meet minimum standards but not all of them. When someone goes to a tattoo parlor, they should know the tattoo parlor is meeting minimum safety and sanitation standards set by Pennsylvania," Mr. Wagner said.

Travis Courtemanche, the owner of Rogue Tattoo, said he and most other professional tattoo artists would welcome such regulations because too many people without adequate training or sanitation practices are operating unsafe parlors, some out of their homes.

"It's more for the protection of people who want to save a few dollars and go to someone's basement and get a $20 tattoo," he said. "The majority [of tattoo artists] would support this, or at least everyone who's operating a legitimate business. Certainly there's going to be a little blow back from old school artists who feel they don't need to be told what to do."

Sean P. McCarthy, a tattoo artist and the proprietor of Jester's Court tattoo parlors in Oakland, South Side, Etna, and Ross, said he has been lobbying the Health Department for 22 years for the kind of regulations Mr. Wagner is requesting.

"We're surrounded by states with very stringent laws -- Ohio, New York, Maryland," Mr. McCarthy said. "To be quite honest, when I go to [tattoo] conventions, everyone looks at Pennsylvania as the Wild, Wild West where anything goes. Only in Pennsylvania can you get a tattoo at carnivals and flea markets. Quite honestly, I'm embarrassed."

But Mr. McCarthy cautioned that legislators need to have the input from legitimate tattoo artists to formulate a workable bill that makes sense and is up to date with tattoo industry's best practices.

state - health

Michael A. Fuoco: mfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1968.


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