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Government Says Mobile Phone Use May Carry Risks
Financial Times
December 09, 2000

The Government has changed its mind on the use of "hands-free" mobile phone devices which, until yesterday, it had insisted were capable of reducing the risk of radiation damage to the brain.

Professor Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer, said the effectiveness of hands-free devices to reduce microwave radiation exposure was too uncertain and further research was still needed.

The Government announced a pounds 7m research programme to try to clear up the confusion over the possible health risks of using cellphone radiation. It says it will distribute one million leaflets to shops and supermarkets outlining how little is known about the risks.

Professor Donaldson said the Government was no longer recommending the use of hands-free kits to lessen radiation exposure as there was conflicting evidence on whether they can make matters worse by acting as an aerial taking microwaves from the handset directly to the brain.

"We've got to find some way of sharing our uncertainty because the science is not yet complete," Professor Donaldson said.

Everyone who buys a new mobile this Christmas should receive the Department of Health's leaflet saying that although there is no current evidence to link cellphones with ill health, the public should make up its own mind about what precautions to take.

"The balance of evidence to date is that exposure to microwaves below the guidelines does not cause adverse effects on health," Professor Donaldson said. But he added: "There are gaps in our knowledge which justify a precautionary approach. If people do want to take a precautionary approach then they can keep their calls short."

The Government will spend pounds 3.5m over the next two to three years conducting research into the health risks of radiation from handsets and base stations. The remainder will be spent by industry, Professor Donaldson said.

"Of course, if parents want to avoid their children being subject to any possible risk that might be identified in the future, they can exercise their choice not to let their children use mobile phones," Professor Donaldson said.

If a risk is ever identified, it is thought that children would be more susceptible because of the smaller heads and thinner skulls receive a larger dose of radiation, their nervous system is still developing and they are likely to receive a bigger dose over the course of a lifetime.

Mobile phone companies have been asked by the Government not to promote mobile phones for use by children, with advertising aimed specifically at a younger audience.

The Government also wants the mobile phone industry to publish information for consumers about the levels of radiation emitted by different handset models. This is measured as specific absorption rate (SAR), which is the amount of microwave energy deposited in the head.

He said the only area where there is an unequivocal risk is using a mobile while driving a car. "There is a proven risk in an increase in the rate of accidents, even with hands-free devices," he said.

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