DC mulls 24-hour wait period for tattoos, piercings

Steve Labofish custom tattoos the arm of John Brady of College Park, Md., at Fatty's Custom Tattooz and Body Piercing parlor in Washington, D.C.

Health department officials say the legislation will protect District residents, but professional tattoo artists are not convinced.

Washington, D.C., could become the first major American city to mandate a 24-hour waiting period for tattoos and body piercings if a new proposal by District health regulators gets approved.

D.C. health department officials have proposed the rule along with a set of other requirements as part of recently-approved legislation to regulate the city's body art industry.

Related: Gang member's murder scene tattoo leads to arrest

"Tattoos are something that have not been regulated — the department wanted to take an aggressive approach in ensuring public health and safety," said D.C. health department spokesperson Najma Roberts, who insists that the one-day wait period will protect people. D.C., although a federal district, is governed by a locally elected mayor and council.

But not everybody agrees with Roberts.

Professional tattoo artists as well as the mayor's office told the Washington Post that they had doubts about some of the proposed regulations.

"Many of the provisions will not reach law," said tattoo artist Paul Roe, who supports legislation mandating proper hygiene, record-keeping and licensing of the tattoo industry but claims that the 24-hour wait period is unconstitutional.

"Tattoos have been recognized as free speech — can they restrict somebody's act of free speech?" he asked. "Unless there is a clear and apparent health hazard and there isn't … it's a business transaction between two consenting adults."

Gilda Acosta, another tattoo artist, told the Post that the waiting period would seriously affect her business. 

"Tattoos have been recognized as free speech — can they restrict somebody's act of free speech?" — Paul Roe, operates the Britishink tattoo parlor in D.C.

Roberts said that health officials had borrowed the 24-hour wait model from Wisconsin.

"Tattooing is such a permanent decision — we felt that there should be a requirement that you think about it before you make a long-term decision," Roberts said.

The lack of regulation has resulted in underground tattoo parlors popping up in the city, she said.

"We have parents calling us to say that their daughter got a tattoo and her leg became infected — they want to know what the health risks are," she said.

Roberts added that the public had 30 days to comment on the proposed regulations.

Related: Are Hernandez's tattoos a sign of gang affiliation?

Watch: NFL could use experts to check prospects' tattoos

The proposed rules also mandate that you have to be 18 or over to get a tattoo. They also say that if you are under 18 you can get piercings but only with your parents' approval.

Roe, who along with other D.C.-area tattoo artists lobbied for the minimum-age rule, called it a "victory."

"I tattooed my son on his 18th birthday. He understands 18 years of age is the time to leave those childish things behind," he said.

Roe, who called D.C. the "Wild West of tattoos," agreed that regulating tattoo hobbyists — those who lack experience and indulge in tattooing in somebody's kitchen or basement — is necessary, but he called for streamlined regulations that would actually be effective.

"The proposed regulations are seriously outdated," he said. "It’s a patchwork of unbelievably silly rules that collectively don't apply to the tattoo industry."

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