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UK Government Hedges Its Bets With Mobile Phone Advice
December 08, 2000

The UK government has advised consumers to cut down their mobile phone use for fear of health risks being identified in the future.

The Department of Health (DoH) issued two leaflets today - one covering base stations and one on mobile phones that advises a "precautionary approach". Parents are urged to limit mobile use by children aged under 16, and adults are advised to keep calls short and to purchase phones with relatively low specific absorption rate (SAR) values.

The government said that although the balance of current research suggests that base stations and mobiles do not pose a health risk, there are "signficant gaps in our scientific knowledge."

Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer, admitted the advice is not as clear as he would like, but said: "We are keen to share what we know with the public, even when there is uncertainty.

"I think it wouldn't be difficult for people to moderate their phone use if they want to cut down their exposure to something that, at this stage, we don't know whether or not causes harm.

"If people want to change their own behaviour to be a bit more precautionary, then they can cut down the length of calls and perhaps not make some of the calls on a mobile phone that they do."

Donaldson added that he would like to see his own staff limit their mobile phone use for the time being.

The Federation of the Electronics Industry (FEI) called the government's advice "puzzling" and reminded consumers that there is no established health risk from either mobile phones or base stations.

However, Telecoms firms and the DoH are set to invest 7m into jointly researching the link between health, mobile phones, and base stations.

The Radiocommunications Agency will also lead a nationwide audit of mobile phone base stations.

The DoH expects to see results from its research programme in two to three years and a standardised approach to measuring SAR values is scheduled to be in place by early next year which will allow concerned consumers to buy phones with the lowest emission levels. An SAR labelling system is already in place in the US.

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