OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma, the only state that outlaws tattooing, should legalize the practice to protect people from diseases transmitted through unsanitary underground tattoos, the state's health commissioner said Friday.
Dr. Mike Crutcher and other health officials held a news conference to announce their support of legislation to legalize and regulate tattoo parlors through the Oklahoma Department of Health.
``We are pleased to support this legislation so we can assure a protected environment for those who seek tattoos in Oklahoma,'' Crutcher said.
A similar bill was killed last year on the Senate floor after narrowly passing through a committee. This time the measure may face a tough test in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. It's scheduled for a committee hearing next week.
``I'm more focused on getting worker's comp and tort reform passed than I am about tattooing,'' said Rep. Mike Thompson, R-Oklahoma City. ``Tattooing was not a big issue for me when I was out campaigning.''
The popularity of tattoos boomed in the last decade and has now become commonplace with all segments of society, said Rep. Al Lindley, D-Oklahoma City, who introduced the bill.
``I think a lot of people would be surprised at the number of bankers and lawyers getting tattooed,'' Lindley said.
With local law enforcement agencies reluctant to use scarce resources to investigate illegal tattooing, Crutcher said some illegal tattoo artists are openly advertising their services in city phone directories.
``This lack of enforcement is not lost on those providing illegal tattooing,'' Crutcher said.
Tigger Liddell, an Oklahoma City native who operates several tattoo parlors in Texas, said the popularity of tattoos is forcing many people in Oklahoma to go to unsafe artists and risk getting a disease through a dirty tattoo needle.
``I know of full-blown underground tattoo studios operating in Oklahoma right now,'' Liddell said. ``Sometimes they're clean and sometimes they're not.''
Crutcher said there has been a spike in the number of new hepatitis C infections, a serious disease that can be passed through use of dirty needles. Health officials have documented about 7,000 new cases of hepatitis C cases since 2000, a jump of 78 percent. The exact cause of the increase has not been determined.
Dr. Edward Brandt Jr., a regents professor at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, said the American Medical Association and the Oklahoma State Medical Association both support regulating the practice of tattooing.
``Any time you break the skin with an unsanitary object, you run the risk of infection,'' Brandt said. ``Our view is that regulation and the regulation of appropriate preventive measures is critical.''