Tattoo Laws Europe and USA

Denmark, as stated in a previous entry, was one of the first countries in Europe to embrace tattoo culture, when its king was seen on the cover of LIFE magazine bare-chested and with numerous tattoos from local Copenhagen artists in 1951. It is therefore ironic that it has the only law in the European Union regulating placement of body art. Since 1966, Danish law-makers has officially forbidden artists to tattoo on the face, neck, or hands. Many Danes do sport visible ink on these areas however, and it would seem any prison sentence (or whip-lashes for that matter) is yet to be dished out to the artists that have performed them.

Neck Tattoo

Contemporary Neck Tattoo and Ear Plugs

Germany, France and Slovakia all, and understandably so, have laws forbidding any public display of Nazi or fascist symbolism, including not only flags, uniforms and forms of greetings but also — tattoos. In 2015, A German politician and member of the far-right National Democratic Party was charged with ‘incitement of hatred’ after being photographed at a public swimming pool sporting a tattoo of the concentration camp Auschwitz on his lower back. The tattoo also displayed the words ‘To Each His Own’, the slogan above the gate to another death camp, Buchenwald. He was given a six month probational sentence.

In the US, Oklahoma was the last state to revoke its official tattoo ban in 2006, but certain tattoos are still banned in some states. In Georgia for example it is not permitted to tattoo ‘within an inch of the eye-socket’. In Iowa, minors are not allowed to get tattooed even with parental consent — unless they are married. In Hawaii, it is illegal to get a tattoo behind your ear, unless it is done under the supervision of a registered physician. However, most surprisingly is perhaps that it is not that long ago that the state of New York had a law in effect declaring it to be ‘unlawful for any person to tattoo a human being’. This law was established in 1961 and not revoked until — would you believe it — 1997. Yes, while today a third of New Yorkers are believe to have some form of inked body art on them, only 20 plus years ago, the tattoo trade in NY was illegal. The legislation came about on a public health pretence after a minor outbreak of Hepatitis B, and officials, much like in Dubai today, quickly blamed the ‘non-regulable’ tattoo industry, and claimed only a total ban would keep the city safe.

NYC Tattoo

NYC Tattoo

In 1997, when tattoo parlours and artists had been working illegally, underground and unregulated for decades, without any more Hepatitis outbreaks, NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani brought about the lifting of the ban. However, in 2011, having discovered the promotion of ‘gothic kittens’ with neck and back piercings online, as well as heavily inked pitbulls as street cred status symbols, a NY state official introduced a bill banning pet piercings and tattoos. The bill passed in 2014, and anyone in violation of it can be sentenced to up to $250 in fines and 15 days imprisonment.