Mobile Phones Are Akin
To Cyanide, Says Academic
Journalist: Sean Fleming
February 6, 2000
Giving a child a mobile
phone is no different from handing out cyanide pills, according to a leading
This was one of the bizarre claims made in an article on whether or not
schoolchildren should be given lessons on mobile phone safety, featured in
the Kingston Borough Guardian.
The remark was made by Prof Gerald Hyland, of the University of Warwick, who
hit the headlines last June when he raised concerns about phone transmission
masts being sited near schools. While no one would doubt the good Prof's
pedigree, his recent outburst is certainly open to debate.
"It is totally irresponsible for parents to let their children have mobiles.
It is the equivalent of giving the child a cyanide pill," he said.
While many people have expressed fears over the links between the use of
mobile phones and a variety of ailments, no one has proved beyond doubt that
mobile phones are harmful, never mind potentially deadly.
The same cannot be said about cyanide.
Prof Hyland's remark is made all the more interesting when we look back at
his ban phone masts from schools call last June. Back then, The
Register reported Prof Hyland admitting there was no evidence to back up
his claims, yet he was still calling for an outright ban on siting phone
masts near schools.
Rather an extreme stance for a man of science (he's a physicist) who you'd
expect to find sticking faithfully to facts and evidence. Prof Hyland talks
about parents being irresponsible, yet he seems to have abdicated himself
from all responsibility when speaking out as a leading academic in this
Only an idiot -- or maybe the chief exec of a mobile phone company -- would
not want to see more research carried out into the possibility that
prolonged use of mobiles can provoke the onset of cancer - which has been
one of the most common concerns. But to liken a phone to a cyanide pill
reduces the argument to the trite and trivial.
Luddites and techno-phobes everywhere are more than happy to sound off on
the subject of giving mobile phones to children. But far from just being a
fashion accessory -- although that does come into it -- many parents give
their kids a phone in the hope it will actually keep them safe.
Some 300,000 mobile phones were bought for use by children in the UK in the
run-up to Christmas '99. Parents hope a child with a phone will be less
likely to be abducted on the way home from school, or visiting their friends,
or wherever. Now, while the statistical likelihood of your child being
abducted is probably no greater today than it was 20 years ago, this is a
topic which has a grip on the parental psyche, due in part to the lurid
detail with which tales of abducted children are covered by some newspapers.
So, what do concerned parents do -- they get mobiles for their kids. Will
this really keep them any safer than their phoneless peers? Who can say. If
it means your teenage daughter can ring you at 11pm to ask you to collect
her rather than her having to walk home alone, then maybe.
But what about the possible health risks? Parents will continue to fret over
the welfare of their children, just as they always have. We can assume that
most people will have had some contact with mobiles give you cancer
stories, and the fact that more than a quarter of a million UK youngsters
got a mobile last Christmas gives some indication of where parents'
priorities lie. Not that they don't care about the little darlings' health,
they're just more bothered about other stuff.
Of course, they could be wrong -- 'pay as you talk' could become 'fry as you
walk'. So in the meantime those lessons on safe use of mobiles could be a
What's needed is a properly funded and coordinated research programme that
will examine the possible links between phone usage and ill-health. For this
to happen the network operators and the handset manufacturers will have to
take the lead. But it will also need the wider support of government bodies
and academics like Prof Hyland. Which means taking the emphasis off talk of
the Boogie Man and sticking to some cold hard facts.
Top of Page