Mobile phones and our health: playing it safe

By Donna Duggan

Mobile phones and our health: playing it safe

From about 7am to 7pm Monday to Friday, my husband is on his mobile phone. Of course, he is not on it every second, but the nature of his job requires him to be on his phone the bulk of the time. While he uses a hands-free device when he can, the phone is never far from his body or brain. The enormous amount of time he spends on his mobile phone is of great concern for me. While a constant stream of research assures us that there is no evidence of adverse health effects from mobile phones, it’s hard not to remain wary of these modern day wonders that only became commercially available in 1983 and widely used from the 1990s.

The UK’s largest program of research into possible health risks from mobile phone technology, known as the Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research programme [MTHR], published its final report last week and once again, the research found no evidence of adverse health effects.  The study was conducted over an 11-year period and the 13.6 million pound cost of the venture was jointly funded by the UK government and the telecommunications industry.

While the study found that there is no evidence that the use of mobile phones leads to an increased risk of cancer, or that exposure to mobile phone base station emissions during pregnancy affects the risk of developing cancer in early childhood, Professor David Coggon, the chairman of MTHR, said “There is less uncertainty linked to mobile phone use now so we have much less reason to be worried. However you cannot rule out the possibility either that something might happen in the long term but not be manifested in the early years of mobile phones, or that there is something subtler that doesn’t show up in the studies that have been done up until now.” Professor Coggon’s quote rang big alarm bells for me. It’s one of those vague “all care and no responsibility” comments. You would think after 11-years and 13.6 million pounds of research, you would have a clear result.

I know I sound like my 96-year-old grandmother when I say this, but I can’t help but put mobile phones and cigarette smoking in the same basket. Cigarette smoking did not become popular in the Western world until a rolling machine was introduced in the US in 1883. While health concerns were raised in the 1930s, during the 1940s, doctors recommended smoking cigarettes to help digestion and relaxation. It wasn’t until 1958 that a scientist working for Philip Morris admitted publicly that, “Evidence is building up that heavy smoking contributes to lung cancer,” and in 1964 the first Surgeon General’s report on “Smoking and Health” came out saying that smoking is a cause of lung cancer and laryngeal cancer in men, and that it is a probable cause of lung cancer in women.

So what are my concerns with mobile phones based on? Mobile phones emit radiofrequency radiation and no-one seems to know if these electromagnetic waves cause injury to living tissue. We do know that mobile phone radiation produces biological changes such as alterations to brain temperature and blood pressure. There’s also various studies that are not funded by the telecommunications industry that highlight health concerns such as the Swedish study published in Epidemiology showing an increased risk of a rare brain tumour in people who used mobile phones for longer than ten years. When you think of the number of kids growing up with mobile phones, this is a worry.

My husband, along with most adults and teenagers I know, are not going to give up their mobile phone any time soon. Even as I write this, my iPhone sits beside me. What I would like is definitive research, not funded by the telecommunications industry, to clearly state issues so we can make an informed choice about how we use mobile phones. Until then, I will keep mobile phones away from my kids as long as possible; will limit use to important calls, and use the land line for chatting; I’ll use text rather than voice messages whenever possible; and I’ll invest in a headset for my husband. I’ll also hope that the results of the numerous studies saying that mobile phones don’t damage your health are correct, and not just a big cover-up of the trillion-dollar telecommunications industry.


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