A Few Minor Problems

Licensing body piercers to protect youngsters sounds good. But enforcement drags.

In addition to money constraints, investigators are not completely sure what to look for when inspecting a piercing studio, Joyner says. Stephen Beekman, drug program manager at the health department, agrees. "We're still training and developing our policy and procedure on how to conduct inspections. We don't know exactly what to look for this year, but hopefully we'll develop it and fine-tune it by next year," he says.

The department hasn't inspected any studios in Houston yet, and it doesn't anticipate starting anytime soon, simply because money is tight. "It would be a rare occasion for us to come to Houston for a piercing studio. There would have to be a report of an immediate health risk," Beekman admits. If a report does not tell of such a risk, the complaint is usually handled by letter.

A consistently noncompliant studio could eventually be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. Before the new laws, the maximum charge was a Class C misdemeanor, but it rarely went that far. Stretched to its limit, the department has the power to shut down a store, "but we usually try to work with the studio before that could happen," Beekman explains. If a studio is found to be noncompliant by an inspector, it's given three opportunities, plus a face-to-face conference and a surprise compliance inspection before the case is handed over to the enforcement division. "Our job is to assist our clientele. We try to do our part at being the friendly government department," Beekman says. For legal action, a police report would have to be filed, and at that point the police can either pursue it or not. "It's up to them," he says.

At Sacred Heart Studio, co-owner Tim Young takes on a navel.
Deron Neblett
At Sacred Heart Studio, co-owner Tim Young takes on a navel.

The miseducation of piercers may be the most hazardous thing in a piercing studio, Joyner says. "These guys who haven't had any training read these manuals and look at their stores trying to figure out how to make their store look like what's on paper. It's simply a lack of education," he says.

The health risk for both the piercers and the recipients is hepatitis B. "It's not a major risk for body piercing, but it can happen," says Scott Damon, health communication specialist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Damon explains that a lot of states will "make sure a parlor is sterilizing things."

"The best protection is, before you get stuck in the arm, or wherever, to ask about the sterilization procedure, and if you're not happy, then there's other places to go. [The studio] shouldn't be tossing needles in a pool of alcohol or anything," Damon says.

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