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FOR RELEASE: February 11, 2005
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Tattoo Regulation Proposed for Oklahoma

The Oklahoma State Department of Health announced today that it is seeking legislative support to regulate tattooing in Oklahoma. The practice of tattooing is currently illegal in this state, making Oklahoma the only state that does not regulate commercial tattooing.

For more than 6,000 years, tattooing has been practiced in almost every culture. Today, it is an emerging phenomenon, finding social acceptability that crosses class, income, sex, and age.

Oklahoma has not been immune to this growing popularity and more and more persons are using unregulated or unlicensed tattooists in the state to provide the service. Nonprofessional tattooists who operate illegally are not required to make certain their equipment and supplies are sterilized and there is no assurance that needles and inks are not reused from one person to another. With no statewide regulations in place, there are no public health safeguards to assure against the transmission of infectious diseases like hepatitis B and C, and HIV, all of which can result from tattoos acquired in unsafe conditions.

Local law enforcement and district attorneys say they are reluctant to use their scarce resources to search out and prosecute illegal tattooists. For those who are caught and found guilty, the punishment is minimal: up to 90 days imprisonment and a fine not to exceed $500. With no one looking over their shoulder, some Oklahoma tattooists openly advertise their services.

The public health implications of unregulated tattooing have state health officials worried. Preliminary results from investigations conducted in LeFlore and Atoka counties last year indicated disease transmission associated with nonprofessional or “home tattooing” practices occurring in those counties. Since 2000, Oklahoma has seen a 78 percent increase in new hepatitis C infections, particularly worrisome since this infection is lifelong and can lead to liver failure. Of those persons who acquire hepatitis C, 34 percent report they have a tattoo.

To address the health risks of unregulated tattooing, Rep. Al Lindley and Sen. Frank Shurden have proposed legislation this session to regulate tattooing in Oklahoma.

This legislation would:

  • Regulate commercial tattooing.
  • Require tattooists to be licensed by the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
  • Require tattooists to procure proper equipment to provide sterile procedures.
  • Require tattooists to be trained in bloodborne pathogen transmission.
  • Require semiannual inspections of tattoo parlors to ensure compliance.
  • Limit sales of tattoo equipment to licensed professionals.

Under the new legislation, persons convicted of violating the law could be imposed fines up to $5,000. In addition to any criminal penalties, the Oklahoma State Department of Health would also be able to impose administrative fines not to exceed $5,000 per violation per day, as well as suspend the license of the establishment.

“We are pleased to support this legislation so we can assure a protected environment for those who seek tattoos in Oklahoma,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Mike Crutcher.

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