Department of Health under pressure to increase
precautions over children’s mobile phone use
Pressure is increasing on the Government to increase public
health warnings over mobile phones as more fears emerge over their possible risks.
The Department of Health has not updated its advice to
consumers for more than four years, while other countries have begun to implement stricter guidance as mobile use
has become widespread even among children.
The long-awaited publication of the Interphone final results
paper, which will include a public health message, is likely to force a revision of advice even if there is no
conclusive proof that mobile phones cause brain cancer.
Many experts argue that greater precautionary measures are
needed now that there are an estimated 4billion people using mobile phones worldwide.
They believe action must be taken even though proof of a link
between the radiofrequency radiation emitted by handsets and health problems has not been proven, because cancerous
tumours can take decades to develop, and because it may be difficult to prove an increased risk solely by asking
people about their former mobile phone usage.
Professor Lawrence Challis was Vice-Chairman of the Stewart
Committee, the British Government’s pioneering investigation into mobile phones in 2000 that led to the current
advice that children should be “discouraged” from making long calls or using mobile phones except when
He believes the Interphone results could be down to “recall
bias” as people who have developed brain tumours are likely to believe they must have been caused by something,
such as their previous use of mobile phones.
But while further research continues, Prof Challis believes it
is sensible for greater precautions to be taken – particularly regarding children. This is because young people are
already known to be more susceptible to the effects of ultraviolet radiation and air pollution.
Prof Challis told The Daily Telegraph: “The Stewart report
recommended that they should not use them to any extent. As time has gone by, that has largely been ignored and my
own feeling is that is now virtually impossible to say teenagers should not have mobile phones.
“I think the advice to secondary school children is to use them
sparingly to text rather than phone, given the uncertainty. I don’t see any reason why children at primary school
should have mobile phones.”
He also called for improvements to hands-free kits in order to
reduce the radiation they emit, and for the Government to force manufacturers to make shoppers more aware of the RF
radiation emitted by different handsets, known as their SAR ratings. Most can only be found by reading the
instruction manual once the handset has been bought.
Dr Siegal Sadetzki, a member of the 13-country Interphone team
who conducted the Israeli study, added: “Most studies including ours show we do see something happening in what we
call long-term users.
“As a specialist in public health, I say why shouldn’t we take
simple measures just to be on the safe side to limit exposure, especially when we are having so many children who
are using them?”
It is understood that Interphone has given assurances to health
groups that despite industry funding for the project, it will not “bury” negative results.
However some members of the Interphone team believe the
increased risks found in some areas are too small to draw any conclusions from, and may be simply down to design
They want the final results paper to be limited to the data and
leave the public health considerations to politicians, and their disputes over the conclusions have delayed its
publication for three years.
One said it was “scary” to consider how much importance will be
placed on their findings by governments and industry, while another feared that making a bold statement now about
possible risks could “prejudice” what they might say in the future should a link be ruled out.
Dr Christopher Wild, the Director of the International Agency
for Research on Cancer, which is running Interphone, said in a statement: "The Agency conducts research with
relevance to cancer prevention and control and hence we would wish to include public health messages from the
Interphone study in as far as the evidence itself permits valid conclusions to be drawn.
"For the sake of objectivity we would also point out the
limitations of our research findings. Countries will then make their own public health decisions based on the
scientific evidence we and others provide, plus other considerations at national and regional
By Martin Beckford
Published: 7:00AM BST 24 Oct 2009