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Phones Vs. Cancer Debate Continues
The results of an authoritative study probing the possible links between brain cancer and the use of mobile phones, will gladden the hearts of telecom manufacturers, while confusing lay users worldwide.
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in the latest issue released today, carries results of a study funded by a wireless industry group and the National Cancer Institute in the U.S. concludes: ``Our data suggest that use of hand held cellular telephones is not associated with risk of brain cancer...'' However, the study was limited to men and women who have been using such phones for three years or less. The paper authored by doctors, Joshua Muscat, Mark Malkin and six others, says further studies are needed to take account for longer periods of usage.
However, widespread public unease about the possible health hazards of prolonged mobile phone usage has prompted the U.S. Federal Communication Commission (FCC) only a few days ago to mandate that all cell phones sold in that country, should carry a declaration of the radiation level of the instrument. Users can also visit the FCC website to compare radiation levels of all commercial models. (www.fcc.gov)
How much is too much - radiation-wise?
The FCC has said a safe limit for radiation absorbed by the phone user's head is 1.6 watts per kg - the standard absorption level (SAR) that may be absorbed by one gram of human tissue. A 1998 study carried out by the U.S. Radiation Research Society, ``Cell Phones and Cancer: What is the evidence for a connection?``, concluded: ``Over all the existing evidence for a causal relationship between radio frequency radiation and cancer is found to be weak to non-existent''.
However, public interest groups have been quick to point out that the industry said the same thing about microwave ovens - before overwhelming evidence proved that they could be dangerous under some conditions. Mobile phones use radio waves to send the signal back - and emit between 0.2 and 0.6 watts of energy. In most phones these radiators are integral with the ear piece. The radiation frequency is in a similar range to the microwave oven - which uses the radiations to cook or heat the food.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has commissioned a large study extending over 10 countries to identify links, if any, between cancer and mobile phones - but this will be completed only in 2003.
Meanwhile some governments are unwilling to take the risk of waiting: Last week the British Government launched a multi- million pound sterling initiative to study the subject and also advised parents that children should not be given cellular phones - since their risk might be greater than that faced by adults.
Worldwide about 300 million people are known to be using mobile phones. The market for such devices has seen a boom this year in India - and the number of cellular phone users in the country stood at around 25 lakhs in June. However the industry expects to add another 10 lakhs by year end, since prices of hand sets are falling - the latest Internet-enabled models have been offered for Rs 4,000.
Indian users by and large have not been advised either by manufacturers or the government about the possible health hazards. Also, the mobile phones in use here are of the digital type whereas in the U.S. where most studies have been done, the majority of such phones are still of the older analog design. It is not known if the two radiate in the same manner.
In the absence of conclusive evidence, users have been advised to minimise possible risk by not clapping the phone itself (which contains the radio transmitter) to their ear-but rather holding it away and using a headphone-speaker attachment to listen and talk. That way-you can use your ear, and have it too!