So What's Got The Furniture Industry Spooked About Cellphone Radiation?
Journalist: Wendy Knowler
October 09, 2006
Put the words "cellphone" and "cancer" into an Internet search, and you
could get close to 10-million results.
That says something about the controversy raging around whether the handsets
most of us have come to depend on are "cooking" our brains or not.
Numerous studies have been carried out worldwide in an attempt to find
answers, and whatever your standpoint, you'll find a study to back you up.
The cellphone industry, naturally, only quotes authorities and studies that
claim little or no risk associated with either using cellphones, or living
near a base station (cellphone mast).
A booklet called "Cellphones, base stations and your health", put out by
Vodacom in August, asks the question: "What are the exposure effects of the
waves coming in and out of my cellphone?"
The answer is a quote from the World Health Organisation (WHO): "Current
evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from
exposure to low level electromagnetic fields (EMF). However, some gaps in
knowledge about biological effects exist and need further research."
(One of these gaps, incidentally, is how cellphones affect children, who
have thinner skulls than adults and still-developing brains, which is why
the WHO has advised that children under 16 should only use hand-held sets.)
Vodacom's Autumn 2006 issue of its magazine, Vodaworld, featured a report on
the results of a four-year survey conducted by scientists at the Institute
of Cancer Research in London and three British universities, which "found no
link between regular, long-term use of cellphones and glioma (the most
common type of brain tumour)".
The "no added cancer risk" finding of this survey was said to be consistent
with the findings of "most" studies in the US and Europe. The word "most" is
key, as several studies have come to a conclusion rather less favourable to
the cellphone industry.
Claims that cellphone masts have severely affected the health of many people
who live near them are similarly dismissed by the various stakeholders.
So, with all this in mind, I was astonished to discover, quite by chance, a
"special exemption" clause in an insurance policy offered by Relyant
Insurance, part of the giant furniture group Relyant. (Beares, Geen &
Richards, Savells/Fairdeal, Furniture City, Glicks.) Most customers who buy
goods on higher purchase acquire Relyant Insurance policies, covering not
only their goods, but also their death or disability as well.
The following is one of the exemption clauses: "Injury to, or illness or
death of the Purchaser, arising from the use of a cellphone, or as a cause
of radiation or electro-magnetic activity."
This doesn't refer to being mugged for your cellphone. It means you aren't
covered if the cellphone itself - or your living near a cellphone mast -
ruins your health or causes your death.
So what does the furniture industry know that the rest of us don't?
A Relyant Insurance spokesperson responded: "The clause was requested and
inserted about three years ago by the consultants who assist in drafting our
"Cellphone usage is an unknown risk for insurers and consumers - there is
contradictory 'scientific' evidence alleging that the use of cellphones is
harmful and other 'scientific' evidence stating the opposite.
"Insurers, mainly in the US, have received claims involving billions of
dollars in terms of liability for illness … arising from class actions
founded on the mining, production and use of asbestos.
"At the time of the initial production of asbestos, and its widespread
commercial and domestic use, the product was believed to be quite safe.
"Given … the possibility of some future link between an illness and the use
of a cellphone, (we) wish to state quite clearly that we will not and cannot
be held liable for any claims arising from the use of cellphones by an
individual. The intention of the policy is basically to provide cover for
the loss of the cellphone but not any liability arising from its use and
certainly not any illness which may be related to cellphones."
Coming at a time of government, medical and industry denial about cellphone
dangers, this is quite a bombshell.
Naturally, I wondered whether this "special exemption" had been slipped into
other insurance policies in recent years.
Apparently not. Viviene Pearson, the SA Insurance Association's corporate
affairs manager, said she'd asked the association's "big member companies"
about the clause, and none had introduced it, or anything similar.
"But this case does illustrate how crucial it is to read every word of the
small print of your insurance policies," she said. "You especially need to
know what you are exempted from."
So is this just a furniture industry thing? Again, it appears not.
Johan Kok, chief operating officer of the JD Group, South Africa's biggest
furniture group, said the company had no such inclusion in its insurance
policy. "First time I've heard of this," he said.
And a spokesperson for South Africa's handset market leader, Nokia SA,
predictably said consumer health and safety was paramount to the company,
and that all the company's handsets conformed to international safety
standards set by public health authorities.
South African lobby group E-MAG SA, which is concerned with health effects
from all forms of electro-magnetic radiation, including power lines and
cellphones, has an altogether different view about the dangers
electro-magnetic radiation emitted by cellphones pose for humans, especially
those prone to holding them against their heads for long periods.
"The fact that certain insurers are seeing fit to exclude cover on cellphone-related
deaths is extremely significant," E-MAG spokesperson Karl Muller said in
response to news of the Relyant Insurance exemption.
"It shows that at least some in the insurance industry believe it is
possible to identify illnesses and deaths caused by cellphone use and other
exposure to electro-magnetic radiation."
Muller said the group had repeatedly asked the cellphone industry in South
Africa whether they carried health insurance on their products.
"In each case we have been told that this cannot be 'clarified' - a strange
term to use.
"Underwriters at Lloyd's of London have refused for some years now to accept
health cover on cellphone handsets, and this should give any consumer pause
"What do the insurers know about microwave exposure that the medical
profession and government authorities don't?"
government play a bigger role?
What role does our government play in issuing guidelines on this issue?
Well, up until about four years ago, there were regulations covering
radio-frequency emissions, but they have been suspended, with Health
Minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang saying that the cellphone industry was
able to regulate itself.
Last September, IFP health spokesperson Dr Ruth Rabinowitz issued a press
release calling on the government to take a stand regarding the impact of
“South Africa has one of the highest ratios of cellphones to population in
the world,” Rabinowitz said.
“British scientist Sir William Stewart has warned that the information on
public exposure to radiation levels is limited and obscure. It may be on
industry websites but one must be a computer operator to find out radiation
levels, a physicist to understand it and have a PhD to analyse it.
“Governments must be pushed to take responsibility for introducing
precautionary measures that limit or track the impact of radiation
So should we be worried about that insurance policy’s “special exemption”?
Well, the insurance industry makes its money by looking at available
information and assessing, or predicting, risk, and the cellphone industry
makes its considerable fortunes out of, well, selling cellphones and