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Text Message Warning
May 24, 2001

Doctors are calling for research into the effects of text messaging, particularly on children.

A report from the British Medical Association (BMA) says more work is needed to investigate the possible health risks of text messaging because the mobile phone is held in a different position, near waist level.

The BMA says more needs to be known about whether mobile phone radiation affects different parts of the body in different ways.

In January 2001 alone, over 900m text messages were sent in the UK.

A BMA spokesman told BBC News Online: "There needs to be more research into the harmful effects on the internal organs around torso level - such as the reproductive organs and kidneys.

"Those harmful effects could apply to adults, but children are more likely to text message, and more likely to do it for longer periods."

But Dr Michael Clark, scientific spokesman for the National Radiological Protection Board, said: "If you want to be really precautionary about children and mobile phones, they should be encouraged to text message rather than call."

"When you use a mobile phone for text messaging, radio waves are only emitted when you press the 'send' instruction.

"So your exposure to radio waves is likely to be very much less than you would receive while using a mobile phone for a normal call."

Roger Coghill, a UK biologist who has studied the effects of mobile phones, said: "With a text message, you write it, then send it, which doesn't constitute much of a hazard - but it does need looking in to."

A spokeswoman for the Federation of the Electronics Industry said current guidelines on heat emissions from mobiles covered every part of the body.

She said: "The phone is not working in a different way but its sending text data rather than voice data, though the voice signal lasts longer."

She said mobile phone radiation emissions were also within current guidelines.

'Hands-free' warning
The BMA is also calling for the Highway Code to be changed to advise people never to use any mobile phone while driving.

Its report says hands-free phones are equally as dangerous as hand-held phones because they still distract the driver from concentrating on the road.

The Highway Code currently tells drivers never to use hand-held phones or microphones, though it does say using hands-free equipment is "likely to distract attention from driving".

Safety organisations backed the BMA. A spokesman for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) told BBC News Online: "We know there have been at least 16 deaths over the last few years where mobile phones have been involved on British roads."

He said RoSPA wanted to see a special offence brought in of using a mobile phone while driving, and said drivers should switch off their mobiles when they get into the car.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said current advice already said mobile phones should not be used while driving because they could be "distracting and dangerous".

Dr Clark said the BMA's advice echoed the recommendations of last year's Stewart Report which looked into phone safety.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and health policy at the BMA, said there were obvious "large gaps" in research into possible adverse effects of radio frequency radiation that needed to be addressed.

There are around 40 million mobile phone users in the UK.

The Department of Health has promised 7m for research into the health effects of mobile phone use.

The BMA also advises users to switch off phones when they are not being used and to limit the length of calls.

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