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Inking A Permanent Solution

September 20, 2010, 10:00 PM by Shawn Neisteadt

Inking A Permanent Solution
It wasn't that long ago when people thought of tattoos, only sailors came to mind. But now, body ink has grown as a form of expression and art. In fact, research shows 16 percent of Americans now have at least one tattoo. That percentage increases to 40 percent for those between the ages of 26 and 40.

But who is regulating the industry? You might be surprised.

The business stands out a little bit in the historic uptown area of Watertown. Ritual Addictions has been open at the location for eight years now, specializing in piercing and tattoos.

"The safety of our customers is really priority number one," Paulie Zoncki said.

Zoncki is the artist behind the tattoos. He's also behind a push for more regulation on his industry in South Dakota. In his eight years in business, he's never been inspected, something he says needs to happen at all tattoo shops.

"I'm not all for government taking over everything, but they do, when the welfare of people is involved, need to step in and say hey, something needs to be done," Zoncki said.

Zoncki is a member of the Alliance of Professional Tattooists. He uses their standards for his shop, treating his tattoo area much like a surgical room of a hospital, especially when it comes to needles.

"I get mine all prepackaged, pre-sterilized from the factory. And that comes out of the package right in front of your eyes," Zoncki said.

Zoncki says that standard in his business is above state regulations. In fact, when it comes to tattoos, he says many of the current laws in South Dakota are outdated because better and safer practices and technology are now available.  And when it comes down to it, there's no inspection process to ensure those existing laws are followed.

Zoncki has taken his concerns to the city council in Watertown where he's been told to take those concerns to the state. But at the state level, he gets told it's a city issue.

"It's a little ridiculous that nobody wants to take the blame or take a stand," Zoncki said.

Zoncki has also been told cities must determine license and inspection processes. Sioux Falls and Sturgis both have procedures. But the vast majority of the state does not.  Zoncki suggests a statewide inspection system, like what is used in the food service industry.

"A guy doesn't wash his hands after he goes to the bathroom and makes your burger, they're going to be on that. But I don't wash my hands or use gloves or any of this stuff before I stab you, make you bleed and nobody cares," Zoncki said.

Zoncki admits it's not a widespread problem because most tattooists are professionals. Nonetheless, it would only take one bad apple to cause a major problem.

"Hepatitis is probably the biggest and easiest to spread. I mean, we deal with blood on a day to day, hour to hour basis. If things aren't getting disposed of properly, sterilized properly, it's extremely easy to spread the disease," Zoncki said.

That is why this Watertown business takes every step to ensure its customers are safe. And why this artist won't stop until more safety measures are in place.

Laws for tattooing do vary from state to state. It's also important to note that nobody under the age of 18 maybe be tattooed in South Dakota without a parent's consent.

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