Cell phone hawkers have their crosshairs on kids as a target market for their wares, but should parents resist purchasing mobiles for their children?
Wireless carriers have begun pushing their “family” plans to provide some economic ammunition for kids pleading with mom and dad for a mobile. And outfits like Firefly Mobile are designing products to push cell phone usedown the age bracket to children as young as 8 years old.
While some people — many of them in the education field — see the metastasizing of mobiles within the junior set as a menace to decorum, others see serious health threats looming from the practice.
Cause for Concern
Citing a caution issued in January by the National Radiological ProtectionBoard (NRPB) in the United Kingdom, Henry Lai, a research professor at thedepartment of bioengineering at the University of Washington, toldTechNewsWorld that parents should be concerned that cell phones may beharmful to young children.
“Not very much research has been done on children or young animals [which can serve as models for children], but the results from other studies seem to indicate that there is a cause for concern,” he said.
In its caution, the NRPB warned, “It is not possible at present to saythat exposure to RF radiation, even at levels below national guidelines, istotally without potential adverse health effects.”
The board also cited the findings in a report released in May2000 by the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones that “children mightbe more vulnerable to any effects arising from the use of mobile phonesbecause of their developing nervous system, the greater absorption of energyin the tissues of the head and the longer lifetime of exposure.”
Nevertheless, Lai, an authority on the biological effects of non-ionizing radiation, conceded that “we don’t know yet how the body responds to cell phone radiation.”
When it was released, the NRPB document elicited a strong response from theFederal Drug Adminstration (FDA) in the United States.
Proving a Negative
“A few studies have suggested low levels of radiofrequency energy exposurecould accelerate the development of cancer in laboratory animals; however,these studies have failed to be replicated and the vast majority of studiesreported in the scientific literature show no adverse health effectassociated with low levels of radio frequency energy exposure,” the agencysaid in a statement.
“With regards to the safety and use of cell phones by children, thescientific evidence does not show a danger to users of wirelesscommunication devices including children,” it added.
John E. Moulder, professor and director of radiation biology at the MedicalCollege of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, told TechNewsWorld, “We’re in thatwonderful area [in which] there is no evidence of a hazard, but proving it isabsolutely safe is impossible.
“If something doesn’t cause cancer, there is no way to actually prove that,”he explained. “The strongest thing you can say about something in cancer is,’We looked and we didn’t find anything.’
Follow the Science
“With mobile phones,” he continued, “they’ve looked in people, but of courseyou can say, maybe it takes 30 years of use for it to happen. That’s notimpossible. Most things that cause cancer do take 20 to 30 years or more todo it.”
More research on the health effects of cell phones needs to be done, notedJoe Farren, spokesperson for CTIA-The Wireless Association, a tradeorganization based in Washington, D.C. “But we shouldn’t discount theenormous body of scientific evidence that already exists,” he toldTechNewsWorld.
“We believe that you have to follow the science,” he said. “And when youlook at the overwhelming majority of studies that have been published inscientific journals, you have to conclude that to date, the evidence doesnot suggest adverse health effects.”