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December 17, 2013 8:24 am

Wyoming should regulate growing tattoo industry

Written by Tom Lawrence

Want to be a barber? You’re going to have to be licensed and regulated.

But if you want to slide a needle under someone’s skin and decorate their flesh with ink, or puncture holes in someone for the purpose of body design, go right ahead. Unless they’re under the age of 18, there are no rules, no regulations, no laws to guide you or monitor your work in Wyoming.

Is the work performed under a dim light in your garage? No problem.

Are you using the same needle on more than one person? We hope not, but that’s your business. No inspections are held.

Do you have a poor track record? Have you a criminal past, a pattern of harming your clients or making them ill? That’s none of our affairs.

Wyoming hates regulations and rules. We’re an Old West state, and we don’t like being told what to do.

It’s worth noting that many — if not most — tattoo shops now do piercings as well. People pay hard-earned cash to have someone “adorn” their body with tattoos or by piercing. It’s their right as a human being to do so, even if many of us shake our heads in wonder.

The state does not regulate tattoo artists or piercers or their businesses. In fact, it allows anyone who wants to call themselves a body artist to do pretty much anything they wish, unless there is a “significant outbreak” that is believed linked to a tattoo business, according to Kim Deti, the Wyoming Department of Health’s public information officer.

In that case, the business could be investigated or even closed. But Deti said for the most part, tattoos are a local matter. Most counties, cities and towns in Wyoming have not drafted or enacted any regulations.

Laramie County and the city of Cheyenne license shops and artists, and perform annual inspections. Applicants pay a fee and must meet specific guidelines.

Here’s a link to explain what they are doing: http://webgate.co.laramie.wy.us/_departments/_health/body_art.asp

The issue came to the fore locally during the Dec. 2 Powell City Council meeting. Elizabeth Ohland, who owns and operates Avalon Cove in downtown Powell, volunteered to help establish city guidelines for tattoo businesses. Currently, there are no laws in Powell or Park County to regulate tattoos.

That was stunning news for some members of the council, who wondered why other businesses, which seem far less likely to cause harm to a person, are so rigidly controlled, with licenses required and annual inspections. We shared that surprise.

Ohland said she has heard from people — she offered few details — who are concerned about the number of so-called “scratchers” who create tattoos in their homes. She also is worried about a proposed new shop in downtown, since she said the arrival of that business and its owner have alarmed some people.

Admittedly, part of this may be about competition. While it would be nice to think Ohland is doing this completely out of a sense of community and health, one has to consider the fact that she doesn’t want a competitor a few doors down from where she puts the needle to people.

The answer seems to be, as Councilman John Wetzel suggested, a campaign to pass a state law regulating tattoo shops and the artists. A small fee could be attached to a license to pay for government actions.

With tattoos increasingly popular — just take a look around — there are many artists performing these services in Wyoming. It’s time to regulate them to ensure they are operating in a safe, healthy and ethical manner.

As long as this business is going to thrive, it is past time for the Legislature to act. A committee, perhaps made up of health officials, tattoo artists and people in the law enforcement, should study this matter. It should look at what other states are doing and recommend a process to license and regulate these businesses.

If we’re going to expect this of those who snip off hair, we certainly should for those who make their money by sticking needles into people.

1 Comment

  • Comment Link December 17, 2013 10:43 pm posted by RJ Farmer

    Tom, you sound like a Man with Experience, Avalon Cove is just a few Doors South of the Powell tribune, same side of Bent, feel free to stop in, check things out,

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