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Updating Hawaii’s Tattoo Regulations

by: Peggy Sucher (

Many wonder why tattooers are calling for Hawaii’s regulations to be updated…who would want more guidelines, increased fees? What’s up with that?

How would you like to visit a doctor who utilizes standards 25 years old? Your dentist? Not quite right, huh? Times have changed! Tattoo regulations and the test administered for licensing were written in 1981. Things sure have evolved since then….Hep A, B, C, D, E, F, and G are upon us, HIV/AIDS, resistant strains of staph, necrotizing faciitis (flesh eatin’ bacteria), rampant diabetes, herpes, genital warts, etc., yeah, a lot has changed in 27 years!

Last Monday representatives from the tattoo and body piercing industry here on Oahu met with our Department of Health officials, the Center for Disease Control officials and Representative Mizuno. We met to discuss the status of the regs and the opportunities available for revision.

Dr. Tice from the CDC spoke of the concern that 1 in 50 people are walking around carrying the Hep virus…and most don’t even know it. He reinterated that a near-invisible about of body fluid containing blood is all that it might take to transmit the disease. He stressed the concern over unsafe body art practices such as home tattooers and people piercing without proper knowledge or training.

Mr. Lau from the DOH also spoke of the need for education of the public of the concerns of unlicensed, uninspected practitioners working out of homes or in the back of uninspected and unsuitable work places.

Both gentlemen agreed that our regulations needed updating to meet the challenges of today’s health issues. As tattooers we were delighted to hear these authorities recognizing our concerns.

One issue that is not so easily remedied is the tight staffing of the DOH. This department is responsible for the inspection of ALL restaurants, ALL tattoo studios, ALL salons, and ALL funeral homes. With a staff of 11. Yikes! Just the restaurants alone should have a staff of 20 or more!

Personally I think they have done a tremendous job overall and I want to publicly thank them for it. Every inspector that has come to where I work has been professional and diligent in their mission. Kudos to our DOH! It’s a huge job and they are doing their best.

In light of their burden we voted in our last tattooer gathering and to a person opted to increase our testing, licensing and inspection fees. Right now it is $7.50 to renew my tattoo license for 2 years. $7.50. Less than a plate lunch! Keep in mind the regs and fees were established 27 years ago…what was gas then? 49 cents a gallon? What was the wage level then? Hum…..only seems fair to get in line with other industries and their fees. (Oklahoma charges $500 per tattooer and $1000 for each shop. Yikes)

Many folks have written opinions in the newspaper blogs about overstretching our government offices with tighter regs, etc. The idea is that regs will simply be updated with concern over the changing and challenging health issues of today. Simply giving them more current parameters is not exactly increasing the work load, just updating the load they currently have. The increase in fees with supply the DOH with more funds to hopefully increase their manpower for all their responsibilities. This is public health we are talking about here! What price can be put on that?

I would also like to thank Representative Mizuno for helping us reach out to the DOH and the CDC. We left that meeting with a great feeling about the future of Hawaii’s tattoo licensing program.

To go back to what Mr. Lau said about educating the public….that is exactly why I contribute to An educated public will make wiser decisions when it comes to chosing their body art practitioner. Knowledge is power and hopefully the subjects I have presented and will continue to present will give anyone the tools to make a wise decision.

Just this morning I read an article about the home tattooers and the health problems they present. Check out

Further education for body art practitioners be it tattooers, cosmetic tattooists, body piercers, staff and management will be offered Aug. 19, 2008. The Alliance of Professional Tattooists is offering the very first industry specific Prevention of Disease Transmission in Tattooing Seminar. It covers not only the challenges we face daily in assessing clients with skin disorders, diseases, etc but practical guides for set up, sanitation, sterilization and clean up.

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