LEISURE chiefs in the New Forest have rejected calls to withdraw sunbeds from council recreation centres despite a national increase in skin cancer.

Downlands councillor Miranda Whitehead, a retired GP, called for the tanning devices to be removed from council-run leisure facilities in the Forest.

Cllr Whitehead raised the issue when backbenchers were given a chance to question members of the district council's ruling Cabinet.

She said the Institute of Environmental Health had urged local authorities to stop providing sunbed sessions.

There was also the increasing harm caused by the unregulated use of sunbeds.

She asked Barry Rickman, Cabinet member for leisure, if they would now be taken out of the recreation centres at Applemore, Lymington, New Milton, Ringwood and Totton.

Cllr Rickman said sunbed users at the centres were restricted to 20 sessions per year, compared with the 50 allowed by some other organisations.

He added: "We provide a first-class service based on choice and should continue to do so.

"If we ceased to offer sunbeds our customers would go elsewhere - possibly to unregulated providers."

Maureen Holding, Cabinet member for health, said the devices were operated in accordance with guidelines laid down by the Sunbed Association.

She added: "Far more people get skin cancer from lying out in the sun for long periods than from using sunbeds."

A study published in March showed that in the previous five years 8,100 Britons had died from malignant melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

The number of melanoma cases is increasing by seven per cent a year - partly as a result of people pursuing artificial tans.

Experts at the British Medical Association say the chances of getting skin cancer rise by 20 per cent for each decade of sunbed use.