"They went from west to east across the northern part of the state," says Bill Hannong, recalling how investigators from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) swept through tattoo shops in the Panhandle in an unprecedented crackdown in 1991.

Back then, the law stipulated that all parlors be under the "direct supervision" of a physician, with little guidance on what that term actually meant. Hannong, who runs Cadillac Tattoo Studio in Fort Myers, explains, "The state had allowed each county to interpret ["direct supervision"] how they wanted. But DBPR decided that was not what they wanted, so they started closing studios for not having a doctor on premises. When that started happening, a few of us got together and discussed what we needed to do to survive the onslaught." Hannong helped found and also became president of the Florida Professional Tattoo Artist Guild.

The guild succeeded in getting the language of the law changed from "direct supervision" to "general supervision," though legislators warned that a specific body of laws for the industry would be needed in the future. Under general supervision, shops got by without much hassle: a yearly visit from a physician and the occasional county health inspection to make sure biomedical waste was being disposed of in a proper manner.

This high-end, home-based tattoo studio is attached to a garage in Hialeah Gardens.
Chris Sweeney
This high-end, home-based tattoo studio is attached to a garage in Hialeah Gardens.

"Getting the word changed from direct to general allowed the industry to take off and run," says Hannong, who estimates there were only 40 or so tattoo shops in all of Florida when the guild was formed. The industry did run, wildly. The change to the law coincided with a surge in the popularity of tattoos and piercings. In the early 1990s, graphic designers and art-school kids stepped into the world of body modification, but so did those who cared less about the craft and more about making a quick buck. There seemed to be a shop opening in every neighborhood. Artists posted up in flea markets and along boardwalks, pulling in locals and tourists.

The Department of Health says that as of February 2012, there were 1,196 tattoo and piercing shops in Florida, based on the number of biomedical waste permits it has issued. The spectrum ranges from high-end shops like Love Hate Tattoo Studio — made famous by the show Miami Ink — where recently an employee was overheard quoting a German tourist $550 for a tattoo of a flower that would take about an hour to complete. Then there are shops like Ink Obsessions Mia in downtown Miami, which offers deals such as $100 half sleeves. You can find shops that sell bongs, trashy T-shirts, and tattoos all in one, or jump on Craigslist and hire a mobile artist who'll set up shop in your kitchen.

"The segments of the pie have gotten smaller," Hannong says. "But because the customer base has increased, it's not a total wash... The economy, now that's forced us to look at our expenses, our overheads, where we can cut costs and not decrease the value of what we're selling. It made us rethink a lot of our stuff and made us become better businesspeople. "

Despite the boom, the tattoo industry remained largely regulation-free until 2009. That's when, according to urban legend, Hollywood state Sen. Eleanor Sobel spotted a hideous tramp stamp on the back of a teenager. Sobel doesn't deny or confirm the story but says in an email that she was "very concerned about minors getting tattoos." To address the lack of oversight and finally create standalone laws for the industry, she turned to Palm Beach Rep. Mary Brandenburg and Hannong's tattoo guild and, with their input, drafted a bill.

Fort Lauderdale tattoo artist Stevie Moon went berserk when he laid eyes on the proposal.


"After so many years of being unified together, [the guild] probably thought they were the last fucking word of tattooing in Florida," Moon rants. "The guild was literally diving headfirst into a black mamba pit... They were about to fuck everyone in the state who wanted to make a living tattooing."

Moon is slouched behind a wooden table at his shop, Stevie Moon Tattoo, in Wilton Manors. His thoroughly inked arms burst from a short-sleeved white polo, and his balding head reflects the yellow light from the industrial-style ceiling lamps. It's too early in the morning for the hum of tattoo machines and small talk to drown out his grating hybrid of Baltimore and New England accents.

Moon spent his formative years in Boston when the city enforced a strict ban on the entire trade. He says the concept of labeling some tattoo artists as mere "scratchers" developed in the early '90s. It was just a way for established artists to stop competitors from breaking into the industry and has been used for fear-mongering ever since, Moon says.

"Back in the '90s, it became very popular for some famous artist to say, 'I support this tattoo supply company, and I support them because they will not sell to scratchers.' The premise of it was: 'Don't support people who aren't doing it right,' and they were hiding under this guise that they were so fucking concerned about public health," Moon says. "It was bullshit. The real reason was: 'Don't support anyone that fucking didn't get an apprenticeship because tattooing is already full and we don't want anyone else coming in.' Everybody was afraid for their fucking pocketbook."

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9 comments
rana7071
rana7071

orlando roofing contractor 

This article gives the light in which we can observe the reality. this is very nice one and gives indepth information. thanks for this nice articleThis was a really quality post. In theory I'd like to write like this too - taking time and real effort to make a good article... but what can I say... I procrastinate alot and never seem to get something done.

lakawak
lakawak

What kind of guy cant find a job with a degree in the medical profession? That is the ONLY area hiring.

It someone can't get a job in the medical profession, then I sure as hell don't want him anywhere near me with a needle.

FQS9000
FQS9000

I am just fine with cheap dummies getting crappy tattoos from their buddies.  No real harm done to anybody and it ought to be perfectly legal.  The current law criminalizes what ought to be legal to the sole benefit of the current tattoo businesses.

That makes it obnoxious.

Pete Pepper
Pete Pepper

With tattoos, the old maxim is you get what you pay for.  While your buddy may throw some ink on you for twenty bucks, most likely its gonna look like you payed twenty bucks on it an you will end up forking over more to make it look right.I have my loyalties to Formula Ink and I have seen some tattoos they have had to fix from some fly by night guy in a backroom.  They are not expensive and go really good work.  You might as well just go to a shop with an artist you like and have it done right the first time instead of suffering through some really bad ink.  

FQS9000
FQS9000

Pimping out the entrepreneurs.  A lot easier than earning money by working for it and the more competitors you can run out of business the better.

This whole scheme is merely a way to limit competition and run up the cost instigated by existing businesses and sold to do-gooders who have never ever seen a regulation they didn't love.

The losers are the public who has to pay more and small time tatooers who can't earn an income.

Damn liberals, lawyers, legislators and industry weasels.  You ought to be able to buy a permit and hunt them.

Johnston4202003
Johnston4202003

     This bill was made up by the tattoo guild for the  purpose of  better health regulation not  to have more clientele for themselves.    To me that's  childish whining coming from most likely a "scratcher" whose portfolio wouldn't get him in the door of any decent tattoo shop. Cut the  hippie crap out about the government too. But i digress, the fact is, its illegal to tattoo out of the house anywhere in America, and  its fuckin easy here in  FL to walk into  a tattoo shop, even with a  sub par portfolio  and  be hired on the spot. Of coarse you only get about 25 to 30 % cut of the tattoo and good luck with getting return customers. Facts are,  you are lazy and couldn't handle a real apprenticeship because you were brought up with no morals or respect, and YOU are the "industry weasel" as you so elegantly put it.          The fact is that Florida is the least regulated of all 50 states.  I am from MA, and  there you need a two years apprenticeship, blood borne pathogen, first aid and CPR training. A college level anatomy class just to get your license. SO quit whining!!!     Secondly,  tattoos have always been expensive!!  Where the fuck have you been?? I have seen these 100 dollar half sleeves and  50 dollar portraits. To each his own if they  like it and think it resembles whom ever but i bite my tongue if ever asked.   on a side note:      An apprenticeship isn't just to teach you to take a needle and make a line on skin. A real apprenticeship not only teaches the art form  but the way to take care for the shop and  everything in it. And later when you open up your own shop its second nature to run it. Secondly  teaches you how to properly set up and  break down a station  with out cross contaminating everything as you go. Cause FYI:  Aids isn't the killer you really need to be afraid of, its hep C. Hep can stay alive but dormant for 2 weeks, HIV dies instantly upon hitting the air.  On the art side,  teaches an artist to take what was drawn or brought in by a client and turn it into a tattoo-able design that will last the ages.  Somethings that look good at the moment it is done can fall apart with years a wear on the skin.

Larry from Hollywood
Larry from Hollywood

 You're an idiot.  95% of regulations exist because the people being regulated failed to act responsibly in the first place, usually leaving someone sick, injured or ripped off.  There are scores of examples, the most recent being the "toxic tush" fake doctor who was injecting "Fix-a-Flat" into people's asses.  I'm sure she envisioned herself to be a "freelance artist" as well.

Every trade that potentially impacts public health is licensed and regulated, whether the licensee is a brain surgeon, paramedic, or hair stylist.  Similarly, dozens of skilled trades require certification and apprenticeship as well (electrician, carpenter, etc.).  Are you seriously suggesting that someone who uses invasive techniques via thousands of needle pricks should be held to a lesser professional standard than any of these other examples?

If you want to continue playing the role of the poor victim whose "artistic expression" and earning ability are being stifled by "Da Man", then restrict your "art" to drawing on people with a handful of Sharpie markers.  But if you want to be treated as a legitimately talented artist, then grow up and become professional about it the way thousands of others have done.

Besides, if it was YOUR arm rotting off with MRSA, I bet you'd be crying "There should've been a law!" and scrambling for one of those do-gooder liberal lawyers to file a $10 million liability suit on your behalf.

Pete Pepper
Pete Pepper

 You really do not know what you are talking about. 

 
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