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In Denial Over Mobile Phones
London Evening Standard
Journalist: Quentin Letts
March 17, 1999

We all raged about mad cow disease, and most of us agree that GM foods look dodgy. But the mobile phones cancer story is the health scare that London is too frightened to discuss. It is heads-in-the-sand, taboo time. Mobiles? Those natty little indispensables used by everyone from plumbers' mates to City traders? Brain cancer? Mention it in the pub or at a party and suddenly the chattiest people fall silent. Mobiles are such a huge part of late Nineties life that the West, to use an American psychiatrist term, is "in denial". After all, "You can get me on my mobile" is one of the expressions of our age. We cannot face up to the possibility we might soon be saying: "My mobile got me."

Every week brings fresh evidence that mobiles could be as bad for you as a trip to a Pacific atoll at nuclear bomb testing time. Every time you take that throbbing little gizmo from your handbag and say "Hello" you could be frying your mind.

We give them to our children for safety reasons. Is this really so wise? The children might be better off chain-smoking untipped Camels.

The latest development came at the weekend when a former BT engineer claimed he had been left mentally punch-drunk by heavy use of mobiles.

The implications for telecommunications shares are dire. Martin Dawes, the mobile phone entrepreneur who sold his business for 70 million to Cellnet last week, may have got out just in time.

If there was anything like doubt about a drug or foodstuff, the agencies of the state and the consumer rights cadres would be in full swing. There would be questions in the House. Television specials would be fronted by sombre presenters, pressing manufacturers for answers and demanding an inquiry. The word scandal would be flung around. Senior executives would be expected to resign.

None of this is happening in the mobile phones scare because the ramifications are too immense. If you ask people what they think, they mumble that yeah, there's probably something in this brain cancer theory.

But should mobiles be banned?

We all raged about mad cow disease, and most of us agree that GM foods look dodgy. But the mobile phones cancer story is the health scare that London is too frightened to discuss. It is heads-in-the-sand, taboo time. Mobiles? Those natty little indispensables used by everyone from plumbers' mates to City traders? Brain cancer? Mention it in the pub or at a party and suddenly the chattiest people fall silent. Mobiles are such a huge beef on the bone has been. Asda and others are ruling out GM foods. So should there be a mobiles moratorium? We dare not say so. It is not as though the theories are new.

Three summers ago an acquaintance of mine, the international financier Michael von Clemm, 61, developed a brain tumour near his telephone ear. Von Clemm, a billionaire so careful of his health that he had a high-altitude anti-radiation blanket made for his frequent Concorde trips, had long been a mobile phone addict.

In 1996 I got an article into the papers which reported: "Von Clemm's friends wonder whether the tumour has anything to do with his long-term use of mobile phones." When von Clemm died last autumn, his friend Richard Branson disclosed that the doctors - and Michael could afford the very best - were "convinced" mobiles were to blame for his death. There are signs that a few people may at last be taking notice. In offices there are the beginnings of a rumble as employees seek assurances and ask for remote headset devices (though if the phones are clipped on to your belt, you may be giving yourself cancer of the kidneys). But the questions are too few, and may be too late.

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