The Natchitoches Parish Journal received this submission from Max Tucker. The views and opinions expressed are those of Mr. Tucker and not necessarily those of the Natchitoches Parish Journal. If you have an article for publishing consideration by the NPJ, please send it to NPJNatLa@gmail.com.
Professional tattoo artists across the state are feeling disappointed by a system of laws that are ineffective when it comes to regulating illegal tattooing and unethical amateurs. The real public threat lies in the fact that it is all too easy to find the location of a cheap tattoo artist working out of some seedy and creepy basement or kitchen that’s neither clean nor sterile, that’s the real public threat. If the Louisiana Department of Health & Hospitals (DHH) refuses to do anything about unlicensed tattooers, they’re only succeeding in keeping the professionals honest.
“You have to maintain a professional license and all that implies, and yet the DHH offers no protections for those licenses,” said Max Tucker, owner of Nakatosh Tattoo Co. in Natchitoches. This means they will not and cannot go after the non-professionals, because the statutes as they stand have little or no penalties attached to them.
The only criminal offense in the statues is LA RS 14:93.2, which states if an artist tattoos or pierces a minor without parental consent, and even then, the complaint must be initiated by the parent.
A misdemeanor offense, this gives law enforcement the ability to make an arrest on those committing the offense; however, this is the only law governing tattooing. Tattooing that is not licensed or sanctioned should be illegal due to the numerous implications that this action causes. For instance, the health hazards associated with “in home” tattooing are astronomical.
The only other recourse available to the DHH is injunctive relief, a ban leveled by the DHH against a tattooer who refuses to comply with the regulations. Enforced for the first time last year and only against shops that were late on renewal fees, the length and consistency of this legal process makes its use as a regulating tool useless.
Micah Harold of Red Handed Tattoo Parlor in Shreveport agrees that the problem in the State is the DHH’s lack of action against illegal tattooers. “The professionals are heavily scrutinized by the state, while they let scratchers run rampant like rats.”
Harold said, “The message is clear. If you want to do anything you need money. They’re not concerned about public health. They prioritize profits over the concern for the health of its citizens.”
“You go to anybody in this world and if they don’t do the job you don’t pay them. Why am I paying this money,” asks Tucker. Coming from Oklahoma, where tattooing regulations require accountability and law enforcement is able to administer consequences, Tucker sees a need for change in Louisiana’s tattooing laws. The requirements to become a licensed tattoo artist include: going through the Red Cross to receive a certificate in first aid, CPR and blood born pathogens, pay a fee and provide a copy of a valid ID. This license encompasses tattooing, permanent cosmetics and body piercing. “These are three separate and wholly independent industries and it’s all just thrown into one little mixing pot,” said Tucker. “That aside, anybody can get licensed. There’s nothing that they ask for that proves you are a professional tattooer.”
Tucker explains how medical fields, electricians, ironworkers and pipe fitters have review boards to answer to, while none of it exists for tattooing, yet artists are required to maintain a license. “If having a license is what the state classifies as a ‘professional tattoo artist,’ then what does that mean for non-professionals,” asks Tucker.
A tattooer must have to have an apprentice license just to train in Louisiana. For people looking for a quick solution to replace years of training, tattoo schools like the one in Shreveport, trains unlicensed people and sends them out into the public. Training consists of four classes a year with approximately 18 students. “That’s a verified 72 people allowed to tattoo illegally, with no apprentice license, and the state and local law enforcement powerless to act. Now, take that number and guess how many are doing it from their homes with eBay kits,” said Tucker.
Inspections are also supposed to be done yearly. “In the eight years I’ve been tattooing in the Natchitoches and Shreveport areas I’ve had four health inspections,” said Tucker and fellow artist Ash Moore agrees. “In the five years I’ve been in Louisiana I’ve seen a health inspector in a shop three times and not once did they inspect” he said. “They’re not doing anything. They’re not providing a service, so what are we paying them for?”
Christy Scothorn, of Atomic Heart Tattoo in Lake Charles, started tattooing 15 years ago. She claims that the retired sanitation workers inspecting tattoo shops don’t have a lot of knowledge when it comes to tattooing. She sees the need for law enforcement’s involvement because illegal tattooing should carry a criminal offense. She also said that getting advice from established tattooers would be beneficial to the DHH when it comes in inspections and for the general public when it comes to stopping the spread of diseases due to unsanitary tattooing conditions.
“Getting someone sick is unethical,” said Scothorn. “There are two types of tattooers: Licensed ethical tattooers and scratchers.”
“I’ve always gone against illegal tattooing. I’ve been very outspoken about it and tried to get it to stop. I’ve repeatedly called Baton Rouge showing them hard evidence and trying to point them in the right direction and no one ever does anything,” said Tucker.
Another issue tattoo artists face is the consistent business of cover-ups. Tattooing since 2000, Harold said the sheer number of people doing horrible tattoos without any regulations is so overshadowing that it’s caused him anxiety. “Cover ups account for a large number of business, even if I can’t stand them,” Harold states. “When it comes to the public’s health and wellbeing no one deserves to get sick if they’re ignorant about going to a professional tattoo shop.”
Tucker has amassed thousands of photos of illegal and poorly executed tattoos within Natchitoches parish, all of which needed cover-ups. Each one testifies to the immense scale of illegal work being done within miles of his shop location. Now multiply that by 64 parishes across the state and the point is brought home. Add to that, the DHH’s own statistics, which rank Louisiana number three in the nation for HIV, and shows approximately 4.4 million cases of Hepatitis C. These numbers clearly make non-professional tattooing an immediate threat to public health and safety.
Harold describes his experience with the state as less than admirable, comparing lobbyists to car salesmen on the hunt for money. “It shouldn’t be about the money,” he said. “The motivation for us is to do the right thing.”
“The DHH offers no recourse to the plethora of illegal tattooing going on out there,” said Tucker. “As a tattooer I am a 100 times more likely to end up with a communicable disease. If I do everything I can to prevent myself from contamination, my clients have zero risk. I go above and beyond to uphold Louisiana’s sanitary codes. That being said, we have great statues on the books, but the only ones who come under condemnation are the ethical shops when it’s time to pay, not the hundreds who will never pay; the ones who hand out business cards and advertise on YouTube. “Why aren’t they actually protecting the public health and safety,” asks Tucker.
“If the DHH isn’t willing to go after people tattooing out of their homes then it needs to concede that it has no business regulating professional tattooers,” said Harold.
“We are not against the DHH or it’s workers,” said Tucker. “In fact we are their strongest supporters. We want to know that when we pay our yearly fees, that money is being used to properly regulate Tattooing in Louisiana. We want the statutes reexamined by the DHH, state officials and professional tattooers. We want local and Parish law enforcement, as well as the DHH, to have the ability to act against illegal activity. We should be consulted as to what is right and wrong and what changes should be made. Above all we want the state to take action in regards to illegal tattooing and if they’re unable to do so, they need to make is so that it can be handled on a local and parish level with the states guidance.”
For questions and comments feel free to contact:
Nakatosh Tattoo Co
119 St. Denis