There are currently no laws regulating body piercers in the state of North Carolina. Lawmakers in the state are trying to change that by using a time-tested route: find unrelated troubling statistics, find it concerning that people are left “unprotected,” and create a “common sense” bill designed to protect the uneducated and fearful public.
The politician is credited for being a caring and paternalistic provider of the unknowing and fragile citizens, while the unrepresented small industry they wish to tax, oops, I mean regulate is small enough that few will care.
In an N&O article Representative Kevin Corbin (R-Macon) pointed to HIV and Hepatitis C cases tripling from 2010-2015 as reason enough to sponsor HB 250, requiring professional licensing for piercers, similar to that already required for tattoo artists.
In phone conversations with Corbin, and later Director of Macon County Public Health Center Jim Bruckner, it was disclosed that this figure is just a generic rate of infection across the state. There is no data on the role piercings or tattooing has played in that increase. Keep in mind this was the evidence that gave them reason to introduce this bill.
This law assumes people are incapable of protecting themselves and businesses have no incentive to provide a high-quality service or safety for their customers. Market competition, however, ensures business are highly incentivized to provide a safe and clean environment. A bad reputation and negative word of mouth from customers can put any company or person out of business. Government does not need to intervene for an industry to be “regulated,” consumer preference delivers the incentives for businesses to provide quality and safety to customers.
So if it’s not going to help, what does this bill do?
Increase health risks: This bill may actually increase the likelihood of problems that politicians wish to fix. Over the phone, I was informed of situations where illegal operations offer piercings at a low rate of $20 or $30 to pierce anything. These rogue piercers operate out of their car trunk with a tin box for their supplies and the unsanitary practice of simply wiping down used piercing needles on their clothes between uses. When inquired why people would use these services, the answer was “low cost.”
If it is the inexpensiveness of the piercing that drives people to get pierced out of a trunk, forcing already reputable piercing studios to incur an additional licensing expense will only drive more piercing customers to black-market providers. Moreover, after a few phone calls, I found $10 to be the common piercing price for studios, raising questions about the story above.
State-subsidized complacency: The N&O reported Corbin saying “I think most people think it’s regulated now.” Assuming this were true, does the state thereby generate a subsidized form of complacency with the public? Would piercing consumers act or react differently if they knew they needed to be cautious of their surroundings?
Regulations induce a form of subsidized complacency value on an industry. Mandated practices like wearing seatbelts are shown to promote complacency and even riskier behavior by consumers. If people believe the government is enforcing safety, they are more likely to be lulled into a false sense of security and as a result be less aware of their actions and surroundings to determine what is in their own best interest.
Revenue generator: The excuse is health, but the real reason is money. The law will do nothing to stop the people at the trunk; in fact, because of prices it may actually drive more people to the trunk of the car for piercings. What this bill does add is an additional licensing step and additional licensing fee generation for the state or county. Many states are already in a battle to deregulate the hair braiding industry and free it from rules that often require thousands of training hours and dollars to obtain a license just to braid someone’s hair. This law puts piercing on the path of being the new hair braiding.
This is purely a feel-good law that only has potential to cause harm and raise costs on consumers as well as the entrepreneurs providing safe and healthy piercing. If Rep. Corbin and the county health officials want to help, I suggest staying out of the way or just stating they do not regulate piercing. That way individuals can make informed and knowledgeable decisions free of coercion, understand the risks as well as benefits of piercing and decide for themselves.
*Originally published at the Civitas Institute